Huge money, weird counterparties, duff product - and no transparency

by Good Law Project

Huge money, weird counterparties, duff product - and no transparency

by Good Law Project
Good Law Project
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Latest: Jan. 20, 2021

They cannot evade scrutiny in the courts

On 17 December, Cabinet Office Minister, Julia Lopez, responded to a question in Parliament stating that all PPE contracts had now been published.

That is simply not true.

Our litigation has revealed&n…

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These are worrying times. 

We know from Treasury documents that Government has approved a staggering and unprecedented £15 billion for PPE procurement to protect frontline staff. But what we see is implausible counterparties, staggering sums of money, political connections, vast waste on duff product - and most of all a lack of transparency.

The law is clear, mandatory and unconditional: regulation 50 of the Public Contracts Regulations 2015 gives Government 30 days to publish details of contracts. But Government is routinely ignoring the law. 

According to data produced by Tussell, a data provider, so far only £2.68 billion of PPE spending has been made public. And, even where it has been made public, it has been made public unlawfully late, as can be seen from the chart below, also prepared for Good Law Project by Tussell.

The vast sums of procurement spending without any transparent tender process creates a special need for transparency - and yet we suspect that Government is deliberately holding back details of the most politically sensitive spending. For example, none of the eleven PPE contracts entered into with pest-control specialists Crisp Websites Limited have yet been published despite Government saying on 17 June that "full details will be published in the coming weeks."

A cross-party group of MPs - Caroline Lucas (Green), Debbie Abrahams (Labour) and Layla Moran (LibDem) - alongside Good Law Project have launched legal action against Government for its persistent and unlawful failure to disclose details of COVID-related contracts. 

It is in the nature of opaque contracting that it is difficult to give examples. However, the pre-action protocol letter - which you can read here - does identify a number. And we are working with a leading international news agency to bring you, we hope, an explosive further example.

The legal team

The Claimants have instructed Deighton Pierce Glynn, Jason Coppel QC and Christopher Knight to try and secure transparency in the public interest. They will work at considerably below market rates.

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We need your help to cover the costs of running the litigation.

10% of the funds raised will be a contribution to the general running costs of Good Law Project. We will use any surplus to develop other litigation to protect the most disadvantaged.

Good Law Project’s founder, Jo Maugham QC, continues to work unpaid.

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Update 6

Good Law Project

Jan. 20, 2021

They cannot evade scrutiny in the courts

On 17 December, Cabinet Office Minister, Julia Lopez, responded to a question in Parliament stating that all PPE contracts had now been published.

That is simply not true.

Our litigation has revealed Government is refusing to publish whole categories of contracts, including those of significant agencies like Public Health England and the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency. Executive agencies have no separate legal status – there is no lawful reason to exclude these. 

Further, the NAO in its second report on pandemic procurement, set out that £12.5 billion had been spent on PPE between February and July 2020, including through existing contracts with Supply Chain Coordination Limited (SCCL), which manages the NHS supply chain. However, data provided to us by Tussell on 18 December showed that only £8 billion of PPE contract awards made during that same period had been published. Procurement through existing contracts is still the subject of an obligation to publish. Yet Government has published no details of call-off contracts with SCCL relating to PPE – over £4 billion of contracts are hidden.

These breaches matter. They matter because they normalise non-compliance with the law. 

They matter because they erode public trust that taxpayers’ money is being spent wisely, and that it will not just be handed to politically connected individuals, without adequate safeguards. 

But most importantly they matter because without a full and honest picture of what is happening, how can we begin to turn our fatally flawed response around?

We have a Government who no longer wants to account to the people on what it does – on why we have the worst death rate in the world, on why so many families are grieving. But they cannot evade scrutiny in the courts. Our hearing is scheduled for 3rd February.

I am publishing my final Witness Statement in full. 

Update 5

Good Law Project

Jan. 7, 2021

Government has filed its Detailed Grounds of Resistance

We have received the Government’s Detailed Grounds of Resistance and accompanying disclosure and witness statements. We are sharing the former and will share the latter when we can after we’ve had our hearing. The hearing is still scheduled for 3 February and we will of course keep you posted.

Update 4

Good Law Project

Nov. 18, 2020

We have a hearing date

I am writing to let you all know that the hearing of this judicial review - about the failure of the Government to adhere to its obligations to be transparent about the contracts it is entering into, and with whom, and on what terms, including those in its infamous VIP lane - will take place on 3 February 2021. 

Update 3

Good Law Project

Nov. 12, 2020

Permission granted - we’re going to court

We are pleased to announce that our judicial review to challenge the Government’s persistent failure to publish COVID-19 contracts as required by law has been granted permission by the court. The hearing is scheduled for mid-January 2021.

Despite Government’s attempt to argue that we had no standing to bring the claim, the Judge agreed there is an important public interest in securing that Government abides by the law and its own public procurement policy. 

Government is required by law to publish contract details within 30 days of the award. But the average length of time taken to publish COVID-19 contracts now stands at a remarkable 78 days, with over £4billion worth of contracts totally unaccounted for.

The Government’s repeated refusal to come clean has left us - along with cross-party MPs Debbie Abrahams, Caroline Lucas and Layla Moran - no option but to compel the Government to come clean through the courts.

It is only with your support that we can continue to hold Government to account. 

Thank you. 

Update 2

Good Law Project

Nov. 9, 2020

The transparency gap grows

Our challenge to Government’s decision to hide COVID-19 spending has led it to disclose that the Department of Health has handed £17 billion worth of COVID-19 contracts to private companies since April. Fresh analysis by Tussell reveals Government has failed to publish details of £4.4 billion of these contracts.

In October we revealed £3 billion of spending was unaccounted for. A month on, this figure has jumped.

Government is required by law to publish contract details within 30 days of the award. But the average length of time taken to come clean about COVID-19 contracts now stands at a remarkable 78 days. These persistent failures to adhere to the law make it hard for MPs and journalists to perform their vital scrutiny function and harder still for lawyers to challenge procurement choices.

The contracts we do know about are alarming. Take Ayanda Capital, a politically connected firm given a £252 million contract to supply facemasks, the majority of which could not be used by the NHS. Ayanda was guided through the process by the Cabinet Office and enjoyed staggering margins compared to the prices paid to others. 

According to Government our claim for transparency in accordance with UK law “should not be used for the transparent purpose of trying to use the judicial process to embarrass the government at a time of national crisis“. 

That this Government views transparency law as something which “embarrasses” them tells you everything you need to know about their disastrous COVID-19 response. 

That’s why we – along with cross-party MPs Debbie Abrahams, Caroline Lucas and Layla Moran – are suing for answers. We await permission to proceed from the court.

It is only with your support that we can continue to hold Government to account. 

Thank you. 

Update 1

Good Law Project

Oct. 10, 2020

We have issued judicial review proceedings

We have now issued judicial review proceedings over the Government’s persistent failure to publish details of contracts within 30 days of their award. We are working with a cross-party group of MPs, Debbie Abrahams, Layla Moran and Caroline Lucas. 

The law can be a powerful tool for accountability. We intend to use it to keep those in power honest. Thank you for your support. 

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