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Thursday, May 06, 2021

Call for more transparency on Covid contracts

The Guardian reports that the government has been urged to publish details of up to £2bn in Covid-19 contracts awarded to private healthcare companies, including some that have helped fund the Conservative party.

They say contracts to provide extra capacity during the pandemic have been handed to 17 firms since March 2020, leading to the Good Law Project, which has repeatedly raised concerns about cronyism and opacity in public procurement, to comment that a lack of transparency about the terms of the contracts is concerning:

The government has not published full details about the contracts, while data on how much the NHS has spent on them is also yet to be released.

The first of two groups of contracts, running from March to December 2020, had 26 firms initially enlisted to provide extra capacity, to a value of £1.6bn.

The government said it did not pay for beds and staff that were not needed, adding that in the end only 17 firms provided services, at cost price.

Accounts for Practice Plus Group, which won £76.3m of work under the contract, raise questions about this assertion. They state that it worked on a “cost plus” basis, using a “cost plus pricing formula”,

The company declined to comment, and referred queries to its trade association, the Independent Healthcare Provider Network.

Accounts for Ramsay Health Care, which won work worth up to £271.1m from March to December 2020, say it worked at cost price plus an extra 8.6% in infrastructure costs. The company said it did not profit from the contract and had made losses during the pandemic.

A second set of contracts for January to March 2021, as peaking case numbers placed huge strain on the NHS, was worth up to £474m. Unlike the first set of contracts, these included minimum payments for making capacity available, as well as for services that were actually used.

Jo Maugham, the director of the Good Law Project, said: “Billions of pounds of public money has been handed to private healthcare firms with hardly any transparency – many of which happen to have links to the Conservative party.

“No one would fault government for doing what was necessary to increase capacity to ensure people could still get the care they needed at the height of the pandemic, so what it is that government has got to lose from publishing these contract details?”

While there is no suggestion of wrongdoing on the part of the companies, Maugham stressed the importance of transparency, particularly given that many of them, or their directors, had either donated money to the Conservatives in the past or worked in the government.

This is the sort of transparency that is essential in a democracy.
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