Health Secretary Matt Hancock acted illegally by failing to publish government billion-pound Covid-19 contracts within the 30-day period required by law, a higher court judge ruled.
The judge, Judge Chamberlain, ruled that failure to do so violated the “vital public function” of transparency about how “large amounts” of taxpayer money were spent.
The judgment is a victory for him Good Law Project (GLP), a crowdfunded nonprofit organization that is presenting a number of legal challenges related to government procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE) and other services during the pandemic.
Research by procurement consultancy Tussell found that at the beginning of October, Hancock’s Department of Health and Welfare (DHSC) had spent approximately £ 15 billion buying PPE from different companies, but only contracts worth € 15 billion had been published. £ 2.68 billion.
Government regulations require that all contracts worth more than £ 10,000 be published and submitted for publication within 30 days of being awarded.
GLP highlighted three PPE contracts to illustrate its case: a £ 252 million contract for the supply of face masks with a finance company, Ayanda Capital; a £ 108 million contract with Clandeboye agencies, which had previously supplied only confectionery products, and £ 345 million worth of PPE contracts with a company marketed as Pestfix.
None of those contracts were published within the required 30-day period. Tussell found that the average time to release for Covid-19-related contracts was 47 days, meaning that the government’s own 30-day deadline “was likely being breached in a substantial number of cases,” Chamberlain said.
Hancock and DHSC had opposed and fully defended the challenge, even arguing that GLP had no “legal capacity” to present a case. The DHSC procurement chief had explained the challenges of procuring PPE quickly during the pandemic and ensuring contracts were published, and DHSC denied it intended not to publish them.
Chamberlain ruled: “The Secretary of State’s evidence provides a compelling explanation for his historic failure … but this explanation amounts to an excuse, not a justification. It follows that, in my opinion, the Secretary of State acted illegally by not complying with the transparency policy ”.
Obligations to publish contracts within 30 days, he said, “serve a vital public function and that function is no less important during a pandemic. The secretary of state spent large amounts of public money on acquisitions related to the pandemic during 2020. The public had the right to see who this money was going to, what it was spent on and how the corresponding contracts were awarded. “
Jolyon Maugham QC, GLP director, welcomed the ruling and said it was relevant to the organization’s other legal challenges to the contracts, including one related to the Cabinet Office’s contract with research firm Public First, that was heard on Monday. The government also argues in those cases that GLPs have no legal capacity.
LPG has written to Hancock asking him to publish all outstanding contracts and the names of companies whose offers to supply PPE were processed through the “VIP lane”, a high priority route given to referrals from MPs, peers and others with political connections. . The government has rejected repeated requests to publish the list of companies.
Maugham said: “I’d rather there was no need for organizations like ours to have to sue the government to get it clean. The public has the right to know how, with whom and at what prices the government spends public money. Anything else is a recipe for corruption. But until the government understands and respects that there is a genuine public interest in how they award Covid contracts, including through the VIP lane, we have few options. “
A DHSC spokesperson stressed that contracts were awarded “quickly” to secure PPE during the pandemic, saying 8 billion items were delivered to frontline workers for their protection. “We fully recognize the importance of transparency in the award of public contracts and we continue to publish information on the contracts awarded as soon as possible.”
The LPG judicial review challenge was supported by Labor MP Debbie Abrahams, Caroline Lucas of the Green Party and Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran, who welcomed the ruling.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism