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Hancock forced to defend helping Tory crony with multi-million Covid contract

MORE Tory sleaze oozed into the Tories’ deepening mire today after Matt Hancock was forced to defend his role in helping a Conservative crony win a multimillion-pound Covid-19 contract.

The Health Secretary acted when former Conservative minister Brooks Newmark touted for taxpayers’ cash to supply protective goggles from China to NHS workers in May last year, early in the pandemic.

Mr Newmark, who served in the coalition government of 2010-15 as minister for civil society before resigning following an internet sex scandal, netted a £178 million contract from the Department of Health a month later

Mr Hancock had sent Mr Newmark’s bid to join the pandemic gravy train to government officials, asking them to examine it.

The Cabinet minister’s involvement was revealed in a series of emails obtained by The Sunday Times.

In one of them, Mr Newmark referred to being in contact with a “well-connected and powerful” person in China, but that he needed government assistance.

Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said today: “It is a recurring theme of the pandemic that ministers have bent over backwards to help their donors, friends and supporters while other companies have had to beg to provide equipment that could help.

“Returning to normal after this crisis is over must not mean a return to Conservative cronyism, deals for mates and one rule for them and another for the rest of us.”

Mr Hancock, however, leapt to his own defence by saying his forwarding of Newark’s bid was “entirely reasonable.”

He said in an interview: “Yes, it was absolutely appropriate for people to get in contact with anybody at the Department of Health when the country desperately needed PPE [personal protective equipment].

“I sent this contact straight on to the PPE team and they looked at it. I don’t have anything to do with the award of contracts.”

Government departments are estimated to have handed £37 billion to profit-hungry private firms in contracts related to the pandemic.

They include taxpayers’ funding of failed test-and-trace systems and provision of protective face masks which proved defective and could not be used by NHS staff.

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