By Adrian Ekins- Daukes
Health Secretary Hancock protests indignantly about the High Court judgement against him in three cases where PPE contracts were granted during the pandemic without competition and announcement delayed until long after the time period required under the regulations. His excuse based on urgency created by the pandemic seems plausible enough . However he might do better to tread more carefully in what may well prove to be a minefield, in the interests of his own future credibility.
The purpose behind the regulations is transparency, in particular to ensure there is no suspicion of bias in the awarding of public contracts. This suspicion is aroused in at least one of the three cases concerned where a contract worth £252m was awarded to a tiny company founded by an associate of a Minister.
There are other such cases before the courts, including one where the beneficiary company was owned by friends of Michael Grove and Dominic Cummings, who was responsible for awarding the contract. If, as seems possible, findings against the government in this and other cases reveal the awarding of contracts at excessive prices, to firms unfitted to fulfil their commitments and resulting in huge waste of public money , the full extent of ‘chumocracy’, verging on corruption, within the Cabinet Office during the first wave of the pandemic will come to light.
In fact, there are grounds for suspicion that the Cabinet office, far from being desperately overworked in trying to find suppliers of PPE and other essential equipment at that time, may actually have obstructed some offers of supply. Could it be that they were seeking to avoid granting contracts to suppliers outside their own circle, preferring to wait until a favoured producer turned up? If that were so, the Cabinet Office is guilty of actually impeding the NHS in its war against the pandemic.