Rachel Reeves has criticised ministers over what she described as an “unedifying gold-rush of chums and of Chancellors” in the abuse of the public procurement process throughout the course of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster addressed parliament this afternoon after Labour tabled an urgent question in the wake of a court ruling last week that found the lack of transparency on contracts has been unlawful.
Reeves told MPs: “A stain has emerged with this government’s response to the virus. There has been an unedifying gold-rush of chums and of Chancellors. £2bn worth of contracts handed to those with close links to the Conservative Party.
“From the pub landlord of the Health Secretary, to the donors, the manifesto writers, the old boys’ club. They’ve all had a return on their investment at all of our expense.
“The government has been taken to court and they’ve lost, costing taxpayers even more money. The Home Secretary once said she wanted people to literally ‘feel the terror’ at the thought of committing offences.
“But the Home Secretary doesn’t have to look to the streets to find lawbreakers. She only has to look across the Cabinet table. This government aren’t terrified of breaking the law because they think they are above the law.”
A high court judge ruled last week that the Health Secretary had acted unlawfully by failing to publish information on multibillion-pound Covid government contracts within the 30-day period required by law.
Justice Chamberlain said that Matt Hancock had breached the “vital public function” of transparency over how “vast quantities” of taxpayers’ money was spent in a victory for the Good Law Project, which brought the legal challenge.
Reeves called on the minister to apologise to the public, set out how much money was spent fighting the case and to outline when the government will get back money spent on defective or inadequate personal protective equipment and to
The Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster asked the minister today why it was that the government created a “Serco test and trace rather than a true NHS test and trace embedded in our communities”.
Reeves also highlighted the billions of pounds of PPE “that the government seems to have misplaced”. National Audit Office head Gareth Davies recently revealed that the government is not sure where large amounts of equipment is located.
The comments from Reeves today come after Hancock told The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday that there was no national shortage of personal protective equipment at the height of the coronavirus pandemic last year.
Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth demanded the minister apologise for the claim on Monday but Hancock instead insisted that there was no national shortage “because of the incredible work of my team”.