British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have been paid more than £70m of taxpayer money to ferry personal protective equipment (PPE) to the UK from China, as the government scrambles to stock up supplies in time for winter.
BA, which is the second-largest airline in the UK, was handed £46m between May and July through a contract with the Department of Health and Social Care, according to government documents first seen by the Telegraph.
Virgin Atlantic, meanwhile, scooped up £27m of taxpayer cash to bring back PPE supplies from Beijing and Shanghai on flights that ran with no passengers.
The contracts were drawn up at the outbreak of the pandemic as the government struggled to procure enough supplies for the NHS amid an exponential rise in hospitalisations and intensive care admissions.
Although the government made public in the first few months of the pandemic that it was collaborating with airlines, the costs of the PPE contracts have only just been published.
A spokesperson for Virgin Atlantic told City A.M: “We’re delighted to work with the Department of Health and Social Care on a partnership transporting crucial medical supplies to the UK for the NHS.
“To date we have carried over 550m items including respirators, ventilator parts, face masks, scrubs, aprons, eye protection and test kits… on charter flights in both the cargo hold and the cabin. No passengers were on board.”
BA did not respond to City A.M’s requests for comment.
The revelations will likely stoke mounting criticism of the government’s awarding of more than £350m-worth of PPE contracts in the initial wake of the pandemic.
Earlier this year City A.M. reported that the government backtracked on official documents showing it had awarded pest control firm Pestfix an £108m contract to supply PPE in the initial coronavirus outbreak.
In a letter to the Good Law Project, which has filed judicial proceedings against the government over its handling of PPE contracts, the Department of Health said it reported the details of the contract “in error”, and that the Pestfix PPE contract was actually worth £32m.
“It has come to light that the contract award notice published… on 18 May was issued in error, and a new notice with the correct details will be issued shortly”, the letter read.
In separate government contracts, City trader Tim Horlick was given £253m to supply unused face masks to the NHS, while it emerged earlier this week that Boston Consulting Group staff have been paid wages equivalent to £1.5m salaries for their work on the test and trace scheme.