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Saturday, February 20, 2021

Court rules on lack of transparency in government Covid contracts

The Guardian reports that a high court judge has found health secretary, Matt Hancock, acted unlawfully by failing to publish multibillion-pound Covid-19 government contracts within the 30-day period required by law:

The judge, Mr Justice Chamberlain, ruled the failure to do so breached the “vital public function” of transparency over how “vast quantities” of taxpayers’ money was spent.

The judgment is a victory for the Good Law Project (GLP), a crowdfunded not-for-profit organisation that is making a series of legal challenges related to the government’s procurement of protective personal equipment (PPE) and other services during the pandemic.

Research by the procurement consultancy Tussell had found Hancock’s Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) had spent about £15bn buying PPE from different companies by the beginning of October, but that only £2.68bn worth of contracts had been published.

Government regulations require all contracts with a value of more than £10,000 to be published, and to be sent for publication within 30 days of being awarded.

The GLP highlighted three PPE contracts to illustrate their case: a £252m contract for the supply of face masks with a finance company, Ayanda Capital; a £108m contract with Clandeboye Agencies, which had previously supplied only confectionery products, and PPE contracts worth £345m with a company trading as Pestfix.

None of the contracts was published within the required 30-day period. Tussell found that the average time for publication of Covid-19 related contracts was 47 days, which meant the government’s own 30-day deadline was likely to have been breached “in a substantial number of cases”, Chamberlain said.

As important as this ruling is for improved transparency and ensuring Ministers keep to the rules in the way contracts are handled, it still does not get to the heart of the matter, namely who those contracts were awarded to, how conflicts of interest within government were handled, what due diligence was carried out, why a competitive tendering process was not follows and what firms are on the government's VIP list for these contracts and why. 

 Further court cases are expected.

Byline Times had a report on who got these contracts months ago
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