Labour has pressed the government to explain why up to £830 million worth of health contracts had been awarded to close associates of senior ministers and officials.
Opposition MPs allege 12 different companies were contracted to provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to health services which ‘never materialised’ – three months on from when orders were made.
Labour also pressed ministers over a tender handed to Public First, an analytics firm run by long-time associates of Michael Gove and Dominic Cummings without ‘any public tender process’.
The company was paid £840,000 to carry out work assisting the government’s coronavirus response. However, an examination of Cabinet Office records by the Guardian and openDemocracy revealed they also undertook Brexit-related projects.
Labour MP Helen Hayes said although her party understood the need to procure goods ‘at speed’ during a national emergency it was not an ‘excuse for reducing transparency’.
‘How does the minister explain reports that contracts at the value of more than £830 million had been awarded to at least 12 different companies for PPE which has never materialised?’ she put to cabinet minister Penny Mordaunt.
Defending the decision, Mordaunt declared: ‘Authorities are allowed to procure goods and services in extreme emergency situations – that doesn’t mean that scrutiny or value for money principles go out the window.’
She added: ‘If the honourable lady has serious concerns about these contracts, other than insinuations, there are very clear process to go through, and I would urge her to do so.
Mordaunt then attempted to downplay links between a Public First director and government officials by saying the employee had been a ‘former much-loved deputy speaker’ of the Commons.
Another contract that raised eyebrows was with pest control company called PestFix which were paid £32 million to source surgical gowns despite only having a total number of assets valued no more than £18,000.
Labour has now written to the National Audit Office calling for a probe into how contracts were administered during the pandemic.
‘The government has published details of outsourced contracts worth around £3bn, while the true figure is likely to be many multiples of that,’ said Rachel Reeves, Gove’s shadow counterpart.
The government also faces a court case over its use of emergency regulations that allows for contracts to be issued without an open tender process.
The case is being brought forward by non-for-profit legal charity the Good Law Project. They argue Downing Street broke procurement laws and showed preferential treatment towards acquaintances. The charity is crowdfunding their case.