A firm with links to Dominic Cummings and Michael Gove has won almost £1 million worth of government work without having to undergo an open tender process.
Public First, a small research firm with links to the prime minister’s top aide and a cabinet minister, has been awarded £956,000 worth of government contracts which were not put out to tender, The Mirror reports.
The firm is run by James Frayne, who has worked with Cummings on several projects in the past, and Rachel Wolf, who co-wrote the 2019 Tory manifesto.
The Mirror has now revealed Public First were given another £116,000 by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) to identify ways to ‘lock in the lessons learned’ by the government during the Covid-19 crisis, detailed as a ‘Public First project’.
The description reads: ‘How can we lock in the lessons of the COVID-19 crisis to build a more robust, sustainable, joined-up system of health and social care?’
Government contracts are usually allocated through a tendering process which allows multiple firms to bid for work but since the pandemic hit, Downing Street has fallen back on emergency powers to award contracts without due process.
The firm’s first contract also drew sharp criticism after Downing Street used the emergency powers to hand them Brexit-related work.
And the contract was put in place retrospectively, after some £253,000 of the work had already been performed.
Frayne worked with Cummings at the Department for Education while Gove was its minister.
Prior to that in 2003, Frayne and Cummings founded an anti-EU think tank together called the New Frontiers Foundation, which closed in 2005.
Expert Liz David-Bárrett, a professor of Governance and Integrity at the University of Sussex, told The New European last week: ‘Public procurement is important. It is – or should be – about spending public money in ways that serve the public interest. That matters even more in a crisis. And yet critical checks and procedures appear to have been abandoned at precisely the moment when we need them the most.
‘As the evidence of poor practice in procurement mounts, it leaves the Johnson government open to charges that it has exploited the Covid crisis to award contracts to cronies.’
A Department for Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘Public First was awarded a contract by DHSC to carry out urgent work for the government.
‘Public First has a track record of successful delivery across government that make them fully qualified to carry out priority work for DHSC.’