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Thursday, December 03, 2020

Chumocracy secrecy

The Guardian reports that the government has been accused of “completely unnecessary secrecy” after refusing to say which companies have been awarded multimillion-pound Covid-19 contracts after being processed in a high-priority channel for firms with political connections.

The paper refers to a report by the National Audit Office last month which stated that a government unit, set up to procure PPE, established the high-priority lane to deal with leads that came “from government officials, ministers’ offices, MPs and members of the House of Lords, senior NHS staff and other health professionals”.

They say the 493 companies given high priority due to these connections secured contracts to supply PPE with 10 times the success rate of nearly 15,000 companies that were not given enhanced attention:

The revelation that a high-priority channel was in operation has fuelled criticism that the government has established a “chumocracy” in which companies with connections to the Conservative party have been favoured with contracts.

This week Lord Bethell, a minister in the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), was asked in the House of Lords by the Liberal Democrat peer Lord Strasburger if the government intended to publish “a list of all companies who were contracted to supply PPE as a result of the high-priority lane”. Strasburger also asked if the name of the person who recommended the company would be published.

Lord Bethell replied: “We do not intend to publish the list of suppliers who were awarded personal protective equipment contracts after having had their offers reviewed with more urgency, as there may be associated commercial implications.”

Lord Strasburger told the Guardian that he was not satisfied with the government’s reason for its refusal to disclose the names of the companies. “The excuse given by the government for dodging my question just doesn’t hold water,” he said. “There is no possible risk to commercial confidentiality in disclosing the names of the fast-tracked companies and who it was that put in a good word for them so they could jump the queue.

“It looks to me as if the government doesn’t want taxpayers to know which companies were given preferential treatment, often at the expense of more proven competitors. They also don’t want us to know which minister or MP was able to slip these companies into the fast lane and what their connection is with the company.

“This completely unnecessary secrecy makes everyone wonder what they are hiding. There must be a full independent inquiry into how these massive contracts were given out, and whether there was any corruption or cronyism.”

Hiding behind commercial confidentiality is a pretty lame excuse to hide behind when there is so much controversy about this issue.
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