Michael Gove broke the law by giving a contract to a communications agency run by long time associates of him and Dominic Cummings, the High Court has decided.
The Court found that the decision to award the £560,000 contract to Public First was tainted by “apparent bias” and was unlawful. The Court found that Gove’s:
“failure to consider any other research agency… would lead a fair minded and informed observer to conclude that there was a real possibility, or a real danger, that the decision maker was biased” (paragraph 168).
Michael Gove had claimed that the work was such that only Public First could carry it out. However, the High Court rejected that version of events. The simple truth, it held, was that the Cabinet Office didn’t even consider whether anyone else should have the contract.
The decision vindicates Good Law Project’s long-running characterisation of pandemic procurement as “institutionalised cronyism”.
Emails released in the case also showed that both Michael Gove and Number 10 were keen that Public First (and Hanbury) should win no-tender polling contracts. Good Law Project’s judicial review of the decision to award a contract to Hanbury will be heard on 26 July.
The decision is the second in our long slate of crowdfunded procurement judicial reviews – and we have succeeded in both. Two Cabinet Ministers – Michael Gove and Matt Hancock – have now been found to have broken the law.
Following the first decision, Good Law Project wrote to Matt Hancock making proposals to improve procurement and get better value for money for taxpayers. We offered, if that invitation was accepted, to drop our further procurement challenges to save public money. Mr Hancock did not respond. Since that letter, huge further sums in public money have been wasted in fruitless defence of unlawful conduct.
Good Law Project repeats its invitation to the Government to learn lessons – and to stop wasting more public money staving off political embarrassment.
Good Law Project is grateful to its legal team of Jason Coppel QC and Patrick Halliday of 11KBW, instructed by Rook Irwin Sweeney. And of course to the tens of thousands of people whose financial contributions make litigation like this possible.
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