NICOLA Sturgeon has hit out at the UK Government after Dominic Cummings admitted he was instrumental in awarding a government contract to a company run by his and Michael Gove’s friends.

Campaigners are taking legal action against the Cabinet Office over the payment of more than £500,000 of taxpayers’ money to research firm Public First. The contract was given to the company without a formal tendering process or advertisement.

The First Minister made the comment in response to a question from Ruth Davidson about Scotland running out of PPE.

Sturgeon said she does not accept this characterisation of the issue, adding Scotland "has never once ran out of PPE".

She said it was found distribution mechanisms had to be improved, which "we did rapidly".

"We set up a portal so anyone who had concerns could quickly raise those concerns and have them addressed. In addition to the NHS, we very quickly put new arrangements in place to top-up the PPE supplies available to our care homes across the country," she added.

READ MORE: 'Reeks of corruption': Fury over Dominic Cummings admission about Covid contract

Sturgeon went on: "We continue to ensure we have good, robust supplies of the right PPE, and into the bargain of course we've also developed a domestic supply chain for PPE."

"Not by giving contracts to our political chums the way some other governments have, but actually by building that domestic supply chain.

"Before this pandemic there was effectively zero Scottish PPE manufacturing, we were fully reliant on imports but over this winter period nearly half of all PPE that is being used in Scotland is being supplied from Scotland."

Public First's directors and owners are James Frayne and Rachel Wolf – both former colleagues of Cummings and Cabinet Office minister Gove. Wolf also co-wrote the Conservative party’s election manifesto in 2010.

The Good Law project, a not-for-profit crowdfunded legal campaign, has brought a judicial review, despite attempts by the UK Government to have the case dismissed.

A witness statement from Cummings submitted to the High Court states the former aide was the "driving decision-maker" behind the move to conduct more focus groups and hire Public First.

Cummings described Frayne and Wolf as his “friends”, but added: “Obviously I did not request Public First be brought in because they were my friends. I would never do such a thing.”

He said he "requested" civil servants hire the firm, and added: "I knew they would give us honest information unlike many companies in this sector.

“I am a special adviser and as such I am not allowed to direct civil servants. However, as a result of my suggestion I expected people to hire Public First.

"The nature of my role is that sometimes people take what I say as an instruction and that is a reasonable inference as people assume I am often speaking for the Prime Minister."

READ MORE: Dominic Cummings denies asking for a government contract be given to 'friends'

In response, the SNP are demanding that the UK Government roots out cronyism.

Cabinet Office spokesperson Stewart Hosie said: “This whole thing reeks of corruption and proves that Westminster is rotten to the core. The cronyism at the heart of this Tory Government must be stamped out.

"When they're not handing out government contracts to their pals without any scrutiny, they're covering up secret independence polling conducted at taxpayers’ expense.

“There must be a full public inquiry into this scandal – the public deserve answers as to why billions of pounds of their money has been spent on ‘jobs for the boys’, and then on defending these bad decisions.

“The UK Government should not have to be dragged through the courts to make them do the right thing at a cost to taxpayers' of over half a million pounds.”

The Good Law Project is arguing for contract to be declared unlawful, which it says will “ensure that proper procurement practices are adopted in the future, protecting public funds and guarding against cronyism”.

The government reportedly plans to claim £500,000-£600,000 in costs for the single-day hearing.

Jolyon Maugham QC, director of Good Law Project, said: “Government has in-house solicitors and can employ barristers at low rates but here money has been no object.

“A specialist public law QC told us in writing: ‘It’s an extraordinary approach; I don’t think I’ve ever seen a similar approach from [the government legal department] in any other case I’ve done for or against a government department.’

“Such costs have a deterrent effect, to scare people off challenging them in the courts. We are determined the truth should see the light of day on Monday.”

The court case follows a series of revelations that the UK Government has awarded billions of pounds worth of taxpayers’ money to companies linked to the Conservative Party during the coronavirus pandemic – including a National Audit Office report revealing a lack of transparency and adequate documentation of government procurement decisions.

The UK Government says its procurement regulations allow for services to be awarded in “circumstances of extreme emergency”.

It added Michael Gove had no involvement in the awarding of the contract but that the government is “committed to learning lessons” of recent criticism of contract awards.