Monday 22 March 2021
Inquiry into Government COVID-19 contracts
The petition of residents of the constituency of Glasgow North,
Declares that contracts awarded by the UK Government during the covid-19 pandemic have avoided proper scrutiny which has resulted in billions of pounds of taxpayer money being handed to companies without due process or competition; further that many contracts have been awarded to companies with no direct experience in providing the contracted services, such as the manufacturing of Personal Protective Equipment; further that this has given rise to concerns around potential conflicts of interest as contracts worth £1.5 billion have been awarded to individuals and companies with links to the Conservative Party; and notes that an investigation by the National Audit Office into UK Government procurement during the covid-19 pandemic has found a lack of transparency and inadequate documentation on why suppliers were chosen and how the UK Government identified and managed potential conflicts of interest.
The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to commit to an immediate public inquiry into all Government contracts awarded under emergency covid-19 powers since March.
And the petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Patrick Grady, Official Report, 15 December 2020; Vol. 686, c. 228 .]
Observations from the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Julia Lopez):
The UK Government have worked closely with the devolved Administrations throughout the covid-19 response to keep every citizen safe and supported no matter where they live in the UK. A system of mutual aid and co-operation between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations has been a key part of ensuring that PPE gets to where it is needed. Public health, including the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE), is devolved in Scotland.
The National Audit Office has published its report relating to Government procurement during the covid-19 pandemic covering the period up to 31 July 2020. This includes, among other things, an examination of procurement activity during the pandemic and the Government’s management of procurement risks. The report will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny by the Public Accounts Committee in the usual way. The Government published a statement available at:
Working with the private sector has been a vital part of the Government’s response to tackling the covid-19 pandemic, with private sector workers standing alongside those from the public sector on the frontline. Indeed, the private sector has assisted us to deliver over 15,000 ventilators in under four months to support the NHS; procure almost 32 billion items of PPE for frontline workers across the UK; and we now have the capacity to process over 530,000 tests a day.
Indeed, being able to procure at speed has been critical in the Government’s response to covid-19 and at the outset of the coronavirus outbreak, we made it clear to all public authorities that they may need to procure new services with extreme urgency. This is not a change to the public procurement regulations; there are already well- established procedures in the Public Contracts Regulations for handling extremely urgent procurements and they have been used by a variety of public authorities including the UK Government, and devolved Administrations.
Governments around the world faced unprecedented demand for essential goods, services and works due to the covid-19 pandemic. All public authorities in the UK, including the UK Government and devolved Administrations, had to move quickly. Other countries, including Japan, Finland and New Zealand, followed similar urgent procurement processes.
More generally, the Government have always been clear that there will be opportunities to look back, analyse and reflect on all aspects of covid-19. This will include an independent inquiry at the appropriate time. For now the Government are focused entirely on responding to the pandemic and saving lives, particularly as the country is experiencing a second wave of the virus. That being the case, it would be premature at this stage to attempt to define the inquiry’s eventual terms of reference.
We also made it clear that authorities must continue to achieve value for money for taxpayers, use good commercial judgement and publish the details of any awards made, in line with Government transparency guidelines.
The Government are committed to adopting and encouraging greater transparency in its commercial activity. There are existing rigorous central controls in place to challenge spend robustly and to ensure that the actions of Government contracting authorities are open, fair and transparent.
The Department has also conducted some internal audit work to examine procurements during covid-19. We do not as a matter of course publish internal audit reports. An independent expert review, the Boardman Review, has been undertaken in relation to certain communications services contracts and the report and recommendations have been published on: www.gov.uk. The Government also published the Green Paper on Public Procurement Rules Reform 15 December, a Green Paper consultation on radical reform of the UK’s public procurement regulations. The Green Paper proposals will make public procurement even more transparent by making more open data available on public contracts.