Friday, 27 Nov 2020

Boris and Hancock facing legal action over top Covid jobs for ‘Tory pals’

A legal challenge alleging Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock acted ‘unlawfully’ when appointing key figures to top coronavirus posts has reportedly been submitted to the High Court.

The Observer said the case – lodged by the Good Law Project and the Runnymede Trust – allege that three appointments were made without advertising the positions, and without the open competition normally required for senior public sector roles.

Those pursuing the case have called for a judicial review into the appointment of Tory peer Baroness Dido Harding as NHS Test and Trace boss, Kate Bingham as head of the UK’s vaccine taskforce, and Mike Coupe as director of NHS Test and Trace.

The claimants suggest they were appointed partly because of their connections to the Conservative party. Harding and Bingham are both married to Tory MPs, while Coupe is a former chief executive of Sainsbury’s and was a colleague of Harding’s at the supermarket.

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Jolyon Maugham QC, director of the Good Law Project, said on social media: ‘This is our belief, that cronyism – which undermines the public interest, discriminates against those who don’t rub shoulders with Cabinet Ministers, and shuts out those who lack the family fortune to work unpaid – is unlawful.

‘And we at @GoodLawProject mean to prove it in court.’

The Good Law Project and Runnymede Trust have questioned their experience and suitability for the roles, claiming that Baroness Harding was ‘handed the job’ as head of the National Institute for Health Protection without any other candidates being considered.

The groups’ crowdfunding page said: ‘In August, the Conservative Peer Dido Harding was appointed as head of the National Institute for Health Protection. The wife of a Conservative MP and friend of former prime minister David Cameron, Dido Harding didn’t pip other candidates to the post at the interview.

‘There weren’t any other candidates. She was just handed the job. She’s not the only one to land a top job this way.

‘Each week it seems another individual secures a role of vital public importance without any advertisement or fair process – and very often that individual has personal and political connections to Government.’

The page added that the Government’s approach to recruiting top roles discriminates against those ‘born without a silver spoon in their mouth’.

It said: ‘It’s unfair to those who don’t rub shoulders with high-ranking Ministers. And it’s unfair to groups who the data shows are shut out of public life.

‘Appointing your mates to top jobs isn’t new or the preserve of the Conservative Party: we all remember ‘Tony’s Cronies’ too. But it’s high time we put a stop to it.’

A No 10 spokesman said: ‘We do not comment on ongoing legal proceedings.’

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