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Latest 01 July 2021

The lies that pass for transparency data

On Monday we published a short post, pointing out that the so-called “transparency” data – which is supposed to list all of the external meetings Ministers have – failed to mention a meeting on 1 April 2020 that Lord Bethell had with Abingdon shortly before his department awarded it the first of two contracts worth up to £87.5m in total. 

The contracts – which Good Law Project is challenging in the High Court – are highly controversial, not least because Government’s own lawyers advised they were unlawful.

Government blamed the missing meeting on an “admin error” and responded on Tuesday by publishing an updated list of the external meetings Lord Bethell had, including the 1 April meeting with Abingdon:

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The problem is that the updated list is also wrong.

First, the updated list doesn’t make any mention of a meeting Matt Hancock had on 1 April 2020 with a group of would-be test suppliers.

We know that it took place because we have the emails.

Here is an invitation to a conference call at 5pm issued to “Excalibur Health” – no mention of this meeting appears in the so-called transparency data. We also know that other providers including Abingdon received the same invitation.

Indeed, it looks very much as though Matt Hancock had two meetings with Abingdon.

Here is a further email setting out that Matt Hancock wanted to join a second, follow-up, private call with Abingdon later that evening at 19.10.

The so-called transparency data, even in its revised form, fails to mention his attendance at either.

Government will, no doubt, say they made a second “admin error” in correcting the first “admin error”. And perhaps you are inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume it is merely gross, and repeated, incompetence.

But even the most sweetly trusting of us must wonder whether the real explanation is that this is a deliberate attempt to mislead the public as to the former Secretary of State’s involvement in the ill-fated and unlawful Abingdon deal.

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