Labour has challenged minister Matt Hancock over the government process for Covid procurement going forward, after a court ruled this week that the lack of transparency during the pandemic has been unlawful.
Rachel Reeves, who has consistently criticised Tory “cronyism” and the government’s approach to outsourcing public service contracts, has demanded clarity from the Health Secretary following the judicial review ruling.
She has asked for details of next steps, plus when the government will track down equipment worth billions and Hancock’s view of the decision to award a contract to Public First that had links to Dominic Cummings.
When legal action was taken by the Good Law Project, the High Court found that Hancock had “acted unlawfully” by breaching his legal obligation to publish Contract Award Notices within 30 days of awarding contracts.
Reacting to the ruling, Reeves said: “Matt Hancock cannot simply brush off this court ruling. He must commit to cleaning up the cronyism and waste that has marred government contracting during the pandemic.
“We have tried to get answers about who is getting VIP treatment but the Conservatives are refusing to tell us. Now we know the health secretary acted unlawfully, these are no longer questions he can ignore.”
Labour has called on the government again to publish the outstanding contracts and details of the ‘VIP’ lane, to wind down the emergency procurement powers and to reintroduce the usual tendering processes.
Below is the full text of Labour’s letter to Matt Hancock.
Dear Secretary of State,
I am writing today following the judicial review ruling yesterday by the High Court that the “Secretary of State for Health and Social Care acted unlawfully by failing to comply with the Transparency Policy” and that “there is now no dispute that, in a substantial number of cases, the Secretary of State breached his legal obligation to publish Contract Award Notices within 30 days of the award of contracts.”
In handing down the judgment, the Judge also said: “The Secretary of State spent vast quantities of public money on pandemic-related procurements during 2020. The public were entitled to see who this money was going to, what it was being spent on and how the relevant contracts were awarded.”
The Judge went on to say that if government had complied with its legal obligations, there would have been the ability “to scrutinise CANs and contract provisions, ask questions about them and raise any issues with oversight bodies such as the NAO or via MPs in Parliament.”
Given this clear legal ruling, and recent serious stories of cronyism and waste at the heart of this government’s pandemic procurement, I am writing to you today to ask you six questions which I hope you will urgently answer.
- Will you commit to publishing all outstanding contracts, winding down emergency procurement powers and reintroducing tendering, in light of the ruling and the huge amount of waste and cronyism marring Covid procurement?
- When do you expect the government will find the billions of pounds worth of PPE, which you recently commissioned outside consultants to track down?
- Do you think the government should have given Public First a Covid contract?
- With the new NHS White Paper assigning increasing powers to the Secretary of State to hand out contracts, how does the government propose to hold itself accountable on who those contracts are handed to?
- Does the government believe it is impossible to act with speed on PPE procurement without handing out contracts to friends and donors of the Conservative party?
- Why won’t the government publish details of contracts awarded through its VIP fast lane? Given £1.7bn has gone through this lane, do you think taxpayers deserve to know?
I know you will appreciate how important it is that taxpayers know how their money is being spent through these contracts, that the government wants to tackle claims of cronyism and that, given this ruling of unlawfulness, that the government and yourself will do everything possible to maximise transparency, accountability and scrutiny.
Rachel Reeves MP
Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster