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Latest 12 January 2023

REVEALED: Government fails again to publish Covid contracts worth £248m

We have taken the first formal step in legal proceedings over the Cabinet Office’s three year delay in publishing the contracts awarded to suppliers as part of the Government’s controversial ‘Ventilator Challenge’ programme. 

 

Back in March 2021, former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, said in Parliament that details of all Covid contracts were now “on the record”. A month later, Cabinet Minister Julia Lopez, claimed “all historical covid-related contracts” had been published. However, an investigation by Good Law Project has found examples of 29 deals awarded where the contracts still haven’t been made public. 

At the start of the pandemic, in early March 2020, the Government established the ‘Ventilator Challenge’- a programme designed to boost the number of ventilators available for use in the NHS. According to the NAO, around £277m was spent by the Cabinet Office on the so-called Ventilator Challenge.

To date, only a limited amount of data has been published by the Cabinet Office regarding the 29 missing contracts. We know two large orders were placed by the Department in March 2020, the first valued at £193m and split between 14 different suppliers, followed by a further order of £51m, again split amongst 14 suppliers. A subsequent, smaller order of £3m was also made by the Cabinet Office in the same month.

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Penlon Ltd landed the largest contract, valued at £136m to deliver 11,700 Ventilators. 

Other winners of contracts include a £6m contract to TTP Plc working in partnership with Dyson. The Dyson deal embroiled Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak in a lobbying row after Johnson personally assured Sir James Dyson his firm wouldn’t pay extra tax if they came to the UK to make ventilators. 

The Government has a poor track record on procurement transparency. In February 2021, Good Law Project successfully sued the Government over its failure to reveal details about the awarding of PPE contracts during the pandemic. The High Court ruled the “Secretary of State acted unlawfully by failing to comply with the Transparency Policy”.

We have sent a Pre-Action Protocol letter to the Government requiring that it fix its breach by publishing the contracts. You can read the letter here.

In our letter, we remind the Government that the High Court was highly critical of its approach in our Unpublished Contracts case, saying that “on receipt of the letter before claim, the sensible course would have been candidly to admit [the breach], to explain why this had happened and to undertake to publish the outstanding [contract award notices] within a specified reasonable period. If that had been done, this litigation, which by the time of the hearing had cost the Secretary of State alone some £207,000, might not have been necessary”. 

We hope that this time around, the Government will take a sensible approach rather than doubling down on its failures to publish contracts.

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