Several weeks back we issued judicial review proceedings against Michael Gove for his decision to award an £840,000 contract to associates of his and Dominic Cummings, without any advertisement or competitive tender process.
Last week we got back a letter from Gove’s lawyers, refusing to provide any information about the contract how it was awarded (despite being bound by a duty of candour). Instead they refuse to engage at all with the proceedings – and challenge our right to bring them.
We already knew from his trips to and around Durham that Cummings didn’t think the rules applied to him; does Gove now feel the same?
Well, they may consider themselves above the law, but we do not.
And on Friday 31 July, we filed the fully particularised claim form, with detailed analysis and evidence that firmly underscore the unlawfulness of this award. You can read the documents here.
We believe that the judicial review should succeed for several reasons. First, the Government can’t rely on emergency procurement procedures for services such as focus groups and communications services. Second, it can’t breach procurement safeguards to let a six month contract on the grounds of urgency. And third, there is apparent bias in the grant of this large contract to long-time associates of Gove and Cummings. Importantly, we reserve our position in relation to whether there might be actual bias.
The evidence we have provided show how lucrative the contract was. In the witness statements, we reference conversations with industry specialists, who tell us £840,000 is an “extraordinary”, “crazy” or “insane” price.
Worryingly, these industry experts have also told us that they dare not raise their heads above the parapet to complain publicly, because they fear they will be “punished” by the Government for doing so.
And therein lies the rub. The Government says that we cannot challenge the contract because we don’t have ‘standing’ – the only people who can challenge, it says, are those they have frightened into silence.
But we must and will stand up to them. Procurement rules exist to ensure value for public money; they aim to mitigate bias and prevent croney-ism. Government must not, under cloak of public emergency, hand out large sums of cash to long-time associates.
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