“All cheques and no balances”: Reeves to deliver speech on Tory “cronyism”

Sienna Rodgers
© Ilyas Tayfun Salci/Shutterstock.com

Rachel Reeves is set to deliver a major speech exposing the extent of Tory “cronyism” during the Covid crisis and contrasting the government’s treatment of workers with the contracts it has awarded to friends and donors.

Speaking from Labour headquarters in Southside, the shadow cabinet member will accuse the Conservative Party led by Boris Johnson of having eroded “what it means to be an honourable and transparent government”.

The Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is expected to call on the government to “urgently clean up” its Covid procurement and reveal that a total of almost £2bn has been spent on “crony” contracts.

She will unveil Labour plans to bring public services back in-house and to expand the Freedom of Information Act, allowing it to be applied to all new public service contracts delivered by private companies.

“While this Tory government has denied key workers in our public services a pay rise, they paid 900 management consultants at Deloitte £1,000 a day to work on test and trace,” Reeves will say on Monday.

“The beating heart of our country is the key workers who have kept us going through this last year. That’s why we applauded them. Children weren’t banging pots and pans for management consultants. They were clapping our key workers.

“The public is also paying a high price for this government’s mismanagement and waste. This current Tory Party is rife with conflicts of interest. It’s all cheques and no balances.”

She will stress that the money spent on contracts going to companies with links to the Conservative Party has nearly doubled since the first wave of Covid, despite warnings from the National Audit Office in November.

The NAO report last year found that half of all Covid contracts until that time, worth £10.5bn, had been handed out without a competitive tender process and that applicants with political contacts were ten times more likely to be successful.

The government admitted in response to the report, which recommended increased transparency, that it had bought 184 million personal protective equipment (PPE) items were not fit for purpose as they did not meet clinical standards.

Reeves will point out that the total cost of “crony” Covid contracts could have provided free school meals to all 1.4 million eligible children for over three years. The government has repeatedly resisted providing FSM during school holidays.

The Labour frontbencher, who has written to the top 10 Tory-linked companies awarded Covid contracts asking how much profit they have made from the pandemic, will say the centralised outsourcing is “not attuned to local needs”.

Outlining what Labour would do in government differently on spending and procurement, Reeves will say: “People expect all of us seeking government to spend their money with care and respect – and a Labour government will.

“Labour will clean up government contracting by strengthening FOI, introducing a new Independent Anti-Corruption Commissioner, and an Integrity and Ethics Commission to make us a world leader in good governance and transparency.”

Anneliese Dodds recently announced that, in delivering “value for money”, Labour in government would invite the head of the NAO to submit an annual report to parliament assessing the effectiveness of public spending.

“I would commit to government responding to that report – and indeed all NAO recommendations – with clear, tangible commitments to improve the quality of public spend,” the Shadow Chancellor pledged in her Mais lecture.

The shadow Treasury team has consistently emphasised the theme of wasteful spending by the government during the pandemic and pledged that Labour would be “responsible” in a bid to build trust with voters on the economy.

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