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Covid-19: Government Contracts

Volume 678: debated on Thursday 16 July 2020

The coronavirus pandemic is an unprecedented national emergency, and Labour understands that in response there has been a need for the Government to procure goods and services at speed, but the flexibility required by extraordinary circumstances is no excuse for reducing transparency or abandoning any attempt at due diligence. How does the Minister explain reports that contracts to the value of more than £830 million have been awarded to at least 12 different companies for personal protective equipment that has never materialised; that £108 million of public funds has been handed to PestFix, a company with just £18,000 of assets; and that £830,000 for communications advice has been given without any tender process to Public First, which is owned by friends of the Prime Minister’s most senior adviser, and although the payment was justified as part of the coronavirus response, it appears to relate to Brexit? How are we to believe that this Government have any kind of a grip on public spending during this crisis?

Authorities are allowed to procure goods and services in extreme emergencies, but that does not mean that scrutiny or value-for-money principles go out of the window, and the hon. Lady will understand that. I am shocked to hear that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster may know people in Public First; I wish further offences to be taken into account and confess that I, too, know people who work for Public First—as does every Member on the Front Bench and every Member on the Back Bench on both sides of the House, because one of Public First’s associates is a much-loved former Deputy Speaker of this House. If the hon. Lady has serious concerns—other than insinuation—about any contracts, there are clear processes to go through, and I urge her to do so.