Ministers set aside normal standards of transparency as they scrambled to secure £18 billion of supplies and services in response to the coronavirus crisis, the public spending watchdog has concluded.
Firms recommended by MPs, peers and ministers’ offices were given priority as the Government raced against the rest of the world to acquire personal protective equipment (PPE) , the National Audit Office found.
Meg Hillier, chairwoman of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, said the failings uncovered in the NAO report may be the “tip of the iceberg” and called for ministers to “come clean” and publish all information about the contracts awarded.
The report found:
– By July 31 more than 8,600 contracts with a value of £18 billion had been awarded, including £10.5 billion without any competition process.
– A “high-priority lane” was established for firms referred to the PPE team by officials, ministers’ offices, MPs, peers and senior NHS staff, with about one in ten companies going through this route getting a contract, compared with one in 100 for those in the “ordinary lane”.
– Contracts were awarded retrospectively after work was carried out, including a £3.2 million agreement with Deloitte to support the PPE team and an £840,000 deal with Public First for focus groups.
– There was “inadequate documentation” in a number of cases on how risks, including potential conflicts of interest, had been managed.
– Many of the contracts awarded were not published in a timely manner.
GMB, the union for public sector workers, says the NAO’s report on the Government’s private contract cronyism is another shameful legacy of its mishandling of the covid crisis.
Rehana Azam, GMB National Secretary, said: “Throughout this pandemic, GMB has called for openness and transparency on how Government contracts are awarded. More importantly, we’ve called for in-house options to be the preferred providers of services.
“But as this report shows, Tory cronyism is alive and well across the heart of Government.
To this lot it’s obviously who you know not what you know that counts.
“Privatising our key workers access to PPE while handling these contracts to their mates, and then trying to hide the admin from the public is all part of this Government’s shameful legacy of how it handled of the Covid-19 pandemic.”
“Instead of spending taxpayer billions lining the pockets of line the pockets of Tory chums – Ministers should do the decent thing and give our frontline public sector heroes a decent pay rise.”