There should be a public inquiry into Government contracts granted during Covid-19. Many contracts have been granted without full and open procurement processes. A public inquiry would be able to ascertain whether contracts had been procured fairly and represent value for money for tax payers.
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Tuesday 5th January 2021
The National Audit Office, the public spending watchdog reported on Government procurement during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Government has published a statement on GOV.UK.
The National Audit Office has published its report relating to government procurement during the COVID-19 pandemic covering the period up to 31 July 2020. This includes, among other things, an examination of procurement activity during the pandemic and the Government’s management of procurement risks. The report will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny by the Public Accounts Committee in the usual way. The Government published a statement available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/statement-on-government-procurement-following-this-weeks-nao-report.
More generally, the Government has always been clear that there will be opportunities to look back, analyse and reflect on all aspects of COVID-19. This will include an independent inquiry at the appropriate time. For now the Government is focused entirely on responding to the pandemic and saving lives, particularly as the country is experiencing a second wave of the virus. That being the case, it would be premature at this stage to attempt to define the inquiry's eventual terms of reference.
Governments around the world faced unprecedented demand for essential goods, services and works due to the COVID-19 pandemic. All public authorities in the UK, including the UK Government and devolved administrations, had to move quickly.
Working with the private sector has been a vital part of the Government’s response to tackling the COVID-19 pandemic, with private sector workers standing alongside those from the public sector on the front line. Indeed, the private sector has assisted us to deliver over 15,000 ventilators in under four months to support the NHS; procure almost 32 billion items of PPE for frontline workers; and we now have the capacity to process over 530,000 tests a day.
Being able to procure at speed has been critical in the Government’s response to COVID-19 and at the outset of the coronavirus outbreak, we made it clear to all public authorities that they may need to procure new services with extreme urgency. This is not a change to the public procurement regulations; there are already well-established procedures in the Public Contracts Regulations for handling extremely urgent procurements and they have been used by a variety of public authorities including the UK Government, and devolved administrations. Other countries, including Japan, Finland and New Zealand, followed similar urgent procurement processes.
We also made it clear that authorities must continue to achieve value for money for taxpayers, use good commercial judgement and publish the details of any awards made, in line with Government transparency guidelines.
The Government is committed to adopting and encouraging greater transparency in its commercial activity. There are existing rigorous central controls in place to challenge spend robustly and to ensure that the actions of Government contracting authorities are open, fair and transparent.
The department has also conducted some internal audit work to examine procurements during COVID. We do not as a matter of course publish internal audit reports. An independent expert review, the Boardman Review, has been undertaken in relation to certain communications services contracts and the report and recommendations have been published on gov.uk. Government also published the Green Paper on Public Procurement Rules Reform 15 December, a Green Paper consultation on radical reform of the UK’s public procurement regulations. The Green Paper proposals will make public procurement even more transparent by making more open data available on public contracts.
This is a revised response. The Petitions Committee requested a response which more directly addressed the request of the petition. You can find the original response towards the bottom of the petition page (https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/328408)