Last week, Michael Gove the Minister for the Cabinet Office was questioned by MPs on Government procurement during the pandemic. Gove responded in the Commons claiming “every single procurement decision went through an eight-stage process.”
During the previous week, Cabinet Office Minister Julia Lopez issued a similar statement claiming that “all PPE offers, no matter where they came from, went through the same eight-stage checks.”
Neither Minister was telling the truth.
Responding to a written question from Labour this week the Government backtracked and has now admitted that the important “eight-stage” procurement process wasn’t in place until the end of April 2020. Contracts awarded before this date avoided the eight point scrutiny process. (We also believe that even after that date friends and associates of Ministers received special VIP treatment – but that’s a separate point.)
The cross-government PPE team belatedly established the eight-stage process as a method to help ensure suppliers and the products they were offering were credible and that due diligence checks were conducted. Health Minister Jo Churchill’s response confirms what we have been saying for months, and seems to be the first admission that the controversial contracts awarded to Ayanda and Pestfix – awards which we’ve challenged as unlawful – avoided the much-lauded review process.
The National Audit Office report into Government procurement during the Covid-19 pandemic confirms that 71 suppliers were awarded PPE contracts worth an eye-watering £1.5 billion before the eight-stage process was standardised.
This is far from the first time Government has misled the public during the pandemic. Boris Johnson wrongfully claimed in February that all PPE contracts had been published and “were on the record”. The PM’s statement was proved wrong in June when the Government quietly published details of 40 PPE deals totalling £4.2bn – a year late.
Only last week No.10 were forced to backtrack on their position regarding the use of private emails by Ministers after Good Law Project revealed that Lord Bethell had been conducting government business via his personal account. This was despite strong initial denials from a government spokesperson.
And a denial from the Health Department (“completely false”) of our blog revealing the existence of a VIP lane for test and trace contracts was itself revealed to be completely false when leaked emails were published in which civil servants explicitly discussed the need to give “VIP treatment” to “a good friend” of Matt Hancock.
This, as we have shown again and again and again, is not a Government that chooses to be encumbered by truthfulness.
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