Two of Britain’s largest airlines were paid more than £70m of taxpayer cash to fetch PPE from China, according to new data which threatens to reignite the row over tendering at the height of the Covid crisis.
The deals with British Airways and Virgin Atlantic were part of a massive drive to replenish stocks of protective kit from sources all over the world. They will have provided vital funding to the airlines at a time when almost no passengers were travelling.
BA was handed £46m between May and July in a contract with the Department of Health and Social Care, details published by the Government show.
Meanwhile, Virgin Atlantic has been paid £27m since April for flights that were still running as recently as this month. The airlines’ services ran from London to Beijing and Shanghai and used empty passenger jets.
The contracts were issued as the NHS struggled to cope with huge numbers of patients and struggling with dangerously lo w supplies of masks, gloves and aprons.
Although it was known in spring that ministers had sought help from airlines, the costs involved have been secret until now. The revelations are likely to spark a debate over whether a proper tendering process was carried out and if market rates were paid.
Ministers have come in for heavy criticism over the amount of funding given to private firms for Covid tests, PPE and the contact tracing system.
City trader Tim Horlick was given £253m to supply unused face masks to the NHS, while Boston Consulting Group staff have been earning fees equivalent to £1.5m salaries for work on the test and trace regime.
Virgin Atlantic said its agreements with the Government allowed the delivery 550m items including respirators, ventilator parts, face masks, scrubs, aprons, eye protection and test kits.
Special dispensation was sought to ensure that items could be stored in the passenger seating area of its aircraft in order to boost capacity.