Johnson and Co. have need to wear masks their time in office is criminal.
The Tory’s have given out billions of public money in contracts without due diligence and in the main, it’s gone to friends and family in an £18bn PPE scandal.
Politically connected firms were given ‘high priority’ for government COVID contracts, an official report finds. The report exposed chronic bungling and ‘jobs for pals’ by ministers’ during the rush to buy safety gear during the covid pandemic.
“It must have been like a free for all, dipping into the public purse, the wealth of the nation looking more like it has been misappropriated rather than spent responsibly for the benefit of the people.“
The devastating report today lifts the lid on the cronyism and ineptitude that has characterised the Government’s £18billion ‘free for all’ under the cover of protecting services such as the NHS from coronavirus in the procurement of PPE.
Companies with political connections were directed to a “high-priority” channel for UK government contracts – where bids were ten times more likely to be successful, according to a damning report by the National Audit Office.
Around 10% of the suppliers referred to the channel by a political contact were awarded a PPE contract, the NAO reported. Suppliers without such links, by contrast, had only a 1% chance of winning a contract.
More than £10 billion of contracts were awarded without competition during this period, the spending watchdog found, with a special channel set up that allowed almost 500 suppliers with links to politicians or senior officials to pitch directly for work.
The Whitehall spending watchdog says it was prompted to act by a “lack of transparency and adequate documentation” over why particular suppliers were chosen or how the government identified and managed conflicts of interest.
Some of the most lucrative contracts received by firms such as PwC and Deloitte since the pandemic began
Since the onset of the pandemic, the government has spent tens of millions of pounds on management consultants to help it manage elements of the Covid-19 response, from the much-criticised NHS test-and-trace programme to buying PPE.
The UK’s largest consulting firms have been paid more than £100m to advise the government on its response to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a string of delayed disclosures from Whitehall in recent weeks.
A huge amount of public money has been spent on consultation, a number of the consulting contracts have also come under fire over the services provided.
The Finacial Times reported a total of 106 contracts worth £109m have been agreed between various government departments and consulting firms such as PwC, Deloitte and McKinsey since March, as civil servants scrambled for support to source personal protective equipment, set up test and trace programmes and acquire thousands of new ventilators as the pandemic gathered pace.
The NAO – which examined whether government procurement followed due process – found examples of contracts, some for hundreds of millions of pounds, being awarded without basic documents that would normally be drawn up to protect against the misuse of public funds.
Bids from companies referred by a political connection to the scheme were taken more seriously, according to the NAO, with suppliers in the high-priority channel viewed as having been “pre-sifted for credibility by being referred by a senior credible source”.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) accounted for 90% of the £18 billion worth of contracts issued up to August, according to the report.
Michael Gove and Dominic Cummings were both drawn into the debacle after the spending watchdog said officials failed to consider potential conflicts of interests involving companies linked to them.
The National Audit Office revealed that officials had signed contracts for hundreds of thousands of facemasks which turned out to be unusable – wasting hundreds of millions of pounds.
Suppliers referred by MPs ‘fast-tracked’
Since the pandemic started, an emergency exemption to procurement laws has allowed the government to award contracts without having to give different companies a chance to bid for them.
Management consultancy firms Deloitte and McKinsey and outsourcing multinationals Serco and Sitel are among those that have been given millions without competitive tender to help the government oversee the crisis.
The NAO said they had found examples where Whitehall departments had failed to explain why they chose a particular supplier or document possible conflicts of interest.
A number of firms given contracts without tender have later been found to have close links to the Conservative Party, prompting accusations of cronyism.
One small, loss-making firm run by a Conservative councillor in Stroud was given a £156 million contract to import PPE from China without any competition.
The watchdog also raised concerns that the sources of referrals for prioritised suppliers were not always documented. In one case, a supplier, PestFix, was added to the high-priority lane in error without a referral.
The vermin control company – which is worth just over £19,000 – was given £108m to provide equipment such as gowns and face masks to the NHS. It was later revealed by the BBC that the protective suits supplied by the company were not tested to the correct standard and that there was “political” pressure to approve them.
The Good Law Project, a non-for-profit group of lawyers, has launched legal action against the government’s decision to award the contract.
“The National Audit Office’s focus on government procurement, including a number of contracts that Good Law Project are challenging in court, is as welcome as it is necessary,” Jolyon Maugham QC, director of Good Law Project, said.
“Some of the findings reflect what we have been saying for months. Government failed to manage conflicts of interest, dished out public money to deeply unsuitable companies and has improperly shied away from proper scrutiny.”
The government’s own internal auditor agency raised concerns that some suppliers were handed contracts despite having low due diligence ratings, following a review requested by the Cabinet Office.
“The existence of a fast-track for well-connected companies with links to ministers and officials will do little to quell concerns about cronyism in UK Government procurement,” said Daniel Bruce, chief executive at Transparency International UK.
“Poor paperwork, uncompetitive tendering and large amounts of money create an environment where at worst there is increased risk of corruption – at best poor value for taxpayers’ money,” he added.
Billions remain unaccounted for.
The NAO also raised concerns over gaps in the documentation of COVID contracts. Just under half of contracts worth more than £25,000 awarded up to the end of July have still not been published. It was reported last month that of £11 billion in public money handed to private firms between April and September, £3 billion remains unaccounted for.
Contracts are also not being published in a timely manner, according to the auditor. Only a quarter have been made public within the recommended 90 days after being awarded.
In October, outsourcing giant Serco, who run a number of contract tracing call centres, were given an additional £57 million to provide COVID test centres.
Business Secretary Alok Sharma refused to apologise for the extraordinary spending and allegations of cronyism, claiming there was ‘huge pressure’ to get PPE for the NHS at the start of the pandemic and through the first wave.
He said: ‘We had to do an enormous amount of work very fast to secure PPE and that’s what we did, and I’m not going to apologise for the fact that quite rightly we made that effort’.
Go-between paid £21m in taxpayer funds for NHS PPE
Mr Sharma also insisted that ‘checks were done’ in the case of a Spanish businessman acting as a go-between who was reportedly given £21million of UK taxpayers’ cash in deals struck with a Florida-based jewellery designer who turned to selling PPE to Governments during the pandemic.
The consultant had been in line for a further $20m of UK public funds, documents filed in a US court reveal.
The legal papers also reveal the American supplier of the PPE called the deals “lucrative”.
The Department of Health said proper checks are done for all contracts.
A legal dispute playing out in the courts in Miami has helped shine a light on the amount of money some companies have made supplying the NHS with equipment to protect staff from Covid infection.
No penalties for failures
MPs and transparency campaigners have criticised the government for failing to put in place penalty clauses in contracts for poor performance.
Several firms involved in the government’s test and trace programme were awarded fresh contracts despite concerns that the scheme was failing to reduce the spread of the virus.
Labour shadow cabinet office secretary Rachel Reeves said: “This report confirms that this Tory government’s approach to procurement has fallen far short of what this country deserves. Lessons must be learned.
“The National Audit Office has shown how, at best, this incompetent government can’t even get basic paperwork right. At worst, that the government may be deliberately attempting to cover their tracks, avoid scrutiny or withhold information from the public while wasting taxpayer money.
“From paying for useless PPE to a maintaining Serco’s failed contract tracing system, we have seen disastrous decisions which have squandered public money and held back our country’s response to Covid-19. The country deserves to have confidence their money is being spent effectively by the government – and to know without doubt that friends and donors to the Conservative party aren’t profiting from this pandemic.”