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Government has hit us with a shock legal bill in our challenge with Runnymede over their appointment of Conservative Peer Dido Harding and her ex-colleague Mike Coupe to run the disastrous Test and Trace programme – without open competition.
Legal action is expensive, so we don’t take it lightly. That’s why, back in March, we asked for Government’s costs estimate for defending this case. We said plainly and clearly that we were asking so we knew whether to apply for a costs cap (a Court order that would have ‘capped’ how much we’d have to pay Government if we don’t win). Government replied with reassurance that their costs ‘would be in the region of £35,000 to £50,000’ and, in reliance on that, we did not seek a costs cap.
A couple of months later, they wrote to say their expected costs would actually be closer to £150,000. While this was an alarming three times more than their initial estimate, it felt just about manageable so we pressed on.
But now, out of nowhere and with only weeks until our High Court hearing, they have increased their estimated costs again – to a whopping £360,000 – with a barely credible explanation. By way of comparison, our lawyers’ bill is estimated at £70,000 if we lose, and £175,000 if we win. Government’s approach feels very much like a ‘bait and switch’.
It’s now too late for us to apply for a costs cap, and we’re facing an enormous potential bill if we do not win in Court – seven times higher than Government’s original estimate. This means we’re still more than £200,000 off the sum needed to cover our adverse costs risk in this case. But we aren’t prepared to down tools.
This Government’s approach to public appointments discriminates against those who aren’t born with a silver spoon in their mouths. The principle at stake – that Government must appoint the best candidate, not its best friend – is incredibly important. If we don’t defend this, we don’t see who else can.
The hearing is due to take place in the High Court on 14 and 15 December.
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