The UK government faces growing calls to release details of a fast-paced VIP lane for emergency procurement contracts in connection with its pandemic response after Health Secretary Matt Hancock was found to have acted illegally .
A high court judge ruled Friday that failing to publish multi-billion pound Covid-19 government contracts within the 30-day period required by law disrupted the vital public function of transparency over how large sums of taxpayers’ money were spent.
Last year, ministers and officials refused to acknowledge which companies were awarded multimillion-dollar Covid-19 contracts after being processed into a high-priority channel for politically affiliated firms.
A report from the National Audit Office said that a government unit, set up to purchase PPE at a very unusual departure from standard procurement practice, set up the high-priority lane to handle directions from government officials, ministerial offices, MPs and members of the House of Lords, senior NHS staff and other health professionals.
Nearly 500 companies that were given high priority due to such connections secured contracts to supply PPE 10 times higher than the success rate of nearly 15,000 companies which were not given added attention.
Labor added to criticism of the government on Saturday, led by Vice President Angela Rayner, who said the government should launder more than $ 2 billion in donations to friends and acquaintances, adding: “This is public money, the public has a right to know.
The outgoing Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Rachel Reeves, wrote on Twitter: How much longer should this go before this government clears its contracts? Publish unpaid contracts and VIP fast lane details now.
Shadow health minister Rosena Allin-Khan wrote on Twitter: Tori donors were given VIP PPE contracts. The price the government paid for PPE rose 1,400%. Many orders were unusable or inadequate, but refunds were not given.
The Good Law (GLP) project has called on the government to publish the names of all the companies that crossed the VIP lane, along with those who introduced them and, where they were successful, the prices paid.
It has also asked the government to publish PPE contracts with apparent price details to enable proper scrutiny and recovery of funds from companies that have not fulfilled their obligations.
Research by procurement consultancy Tussell had found that the Hancocks Department of Health and Social Welfare (DHSC) had spent about $ 15 billion on PPE purchases from various companies by early October, but that only $ 2.68 billion worth of contracts had been published.
Government regulations require that all contracts with a value of more than 10,000 be published and submitted for publication within 30 days of their award.
Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokeswoman Layla Moran, who backed the GLP on the issue, said the decision should mark the end of secrecy over Covid spending governments.
Without our judicial review, who knows how many contracts would still remain unpublished, she said. In fact, the government started to rectify the situation only after we started legal proceedings.
DHSC was contacted for comment. On Friday, she said contracts were awarded quickly to provide PPE during the pandemic and that 8 billion items were handed over to frontline workers for their protection.
We fully recognize the importance of transparency in the award of public contracts and continue to publish information about the contracts awarded as soon as possible, the department said.
During the court case, the head of procurement of DHSCs explained the challenges of procuring PPE quickly during the pandemic and ensuring the publication of contracts. The department denied having any intention of not publishing them.
Hancock did not publicly acknowledge the decision, but posted a photo on Twitter Saturday morning thanking NHS workers for their service during the pandemic.
A DHSC spokesman said: We have worked tirelessly to provide what is needed to protect our health and social care personnel throughout this pandemic, within very short deadlines and against a backdrop of unprecedented global demand.
This has often implied the obligation to award contracts promptly to provide the vital supplies required to protect NHS workers and the public.
As the 2020 NAO report acknowledged, all audited NHS providers were always able to get what they needed on time thanks to the efforts of government, the NHS, the armed forces, civil servants, and industry who submitted over 8 billion PPE items to front line at record speed.
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