Government accused of giving £830m worth of coronavirus contracts to Tory ‘friends’
PUBLISHED: 13:28 16 July 2020 | UPDATED: 13:28 16 July 2020
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.
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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.
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