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House of Commons Hansard
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Covid-19 Services: Private Provision
11 June 2020
Volume 677

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What assessment he has made of the (a) effectiveness and (b) value for money of Government contracts with private companies to provide public services in response to the covid-19 outbreak. [903103]

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What assessment he has made of the (a) effectiveness and (b) value for money of Government contracts with private companies to provide public services in response to the covid-19 outbreak. [903114]

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The private sector has been absolutely vital to the covid response and continues to be so. Despite the speed that procurement has had to run at, value for money and quality remains our top focus.

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Contact tracing is highly skilled and sensitive work. Does the Minister really believe that recruiting contact tracers to work for little more than the national living wage in call centres run by Serco, which in 2019 was investigated by the Serious Fraud Office, is the best way to deliver it?

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If the hon. Lady has concerns about any aspect, whether related to a company or practices within a company, she should please raise it with the Cabinet Office. People have raised questions about Serco which I understand have been answered, and it has self-reported to the Information Commissioner’s Office.

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Rather than relying on local authorities and public services, since the start of the covid crisis, well in excess of £1.7 billion of taxpayers’ money has been spent by this Government on outsourcing directly related to coronavirus. Given that normal procurement rules have been suspended by the Government, there is no requirement for companies to go through the usual competitive bidding process to be awarded contracts. But lo and behold, major Tory party donors and prominent Members on the Government Benches—including Ministers, may I add—have major shareholdings in or are inextricably linked to many of these firms. So will the Minister commit to making public details of all negotiations pertaining to those companies?

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First, procurement rules have not been suspended. One of the absolute key focuses is to ensure that the very many companies that have stepped forward to help this nation in this response are appropriate. We know that the quality of what they are offering to procure has been absolutely where it needs to be. A huge amount of work has gone into that. I pay tribute to the civil service, and particularly to the procurement team in the Cabinet Office, for the sterling work they have done.

With regard to any allegations the hon. Gentleman might make against Ministers— and if he is referring to my hon. Friend in the other place—the Cabinet Office has confirmed that there have been no breaches of rules, and I would urge caution that, having had those categorical responses, people are very careful about what they say in impugning the character of colleagues.