Covid-19: Government Contracts

Cabinet Office – in the House of Commons on 27th May 2021.

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Photo of Tan Dhesi Tan Dhesi Shadow Minister (Transport)

If he will make it his policy to publish all Government contracts relating to the covid-19 outbreak.

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

It is already Government policy to adopt and encourage greater transparency in their commercial activity. Of course, central Government buyers must publish all their qualifying tender documents and contracts with a contract value over £10,000 on Contracts Finder. We recognise, however, that there have been delays to publishing some covid-19-related contracts, and teams continue to work on publishing them as soon as possible.

Photo of Tan Dhesi Tan Dhesi Shadow Minister (Transport)

Seventy-two per cent. of covid-related contracts awarded between February and November 2020 were reported after the 30-day legal deadline, with £7.4 billion-worth of that total reported more than 100 days after the contract was awarded. In comparison, it took Ukraine, which was trying to deal with a major conflict at the same time, less than one day to publish information on more than 103,000 covid contracts. I appreciate that the Good Law Project, EveryDoctor and other activists have taken the Government to the High Court, which confirmed that the Government acted unlawfully, but is it because of incompetence or because they are so imbued in cronyism that the Government lag so far behind on transparency? When will all public contracts finally be published?

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

All contracts will be published. As I mentioned earlier, we are doing our very best to do that. I would say two things. First, the hon. Gentleman talks about cronyism. There is no evidence of that. What there is evidence of is people in the public sector and in Government working incredibly hard to make sure that personal protective equipment and other goods were there at the frontline. I am sure that on reflection he will consider that that particular choice of language might need revisiting.

Secondly, on the point he makes about Ukraine, one of the things the Department for International Development and others were doing in the past was making sure that we invest in civil society capacity in Ukraine. I am delighted that Ukraine is making strides forward, but that is partly thanks to the work done by my right hon. Friend Penny Mordaunt, working with others, when she was Secretary of State for International Development.

Photo of Fleur Anderson Fleur Anderson Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said in the last Cabinet Office questions:

“Transparency drives everything that the Government do”.—[Official Report, 25 March 2021; Vol. 691, c. 1039.]

However, research by Transparency International found that 20% of the UK’s PPE procurement between February and November last year raised one or more red flags over possible corruption—there are too many secrets. Will the Government now restore public trust and publish all communications between Ministers and their business contacts over these PPE contracts? Will they publish the details of all the contracts that were awarded in the VIP lane and end the secretive emergency contracting?

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

The emergency contracting procedure, to which the hon. Lady refers, was one that was used by every Administration across the United Kingdom, including the Labour Administration in Wales, and that was because of the pressures that all of us were under. I remember Front Benchers from the Labour party pressing us at an earlier stage in the pandemic, quite rightly, to move even faster to secure that PPE. But, of course, even as were moving more quickly to secure it, there was a seven-step process supervised by civil servants in order to make sure that procurement was handled appropriately. If the hon. Lady has any specific cases where she feels that the process was faulty, I look forward to hearing from her about them, but so far there have been no specific charges from her. More broadly, I welcome emphasis on greater transparency overall.[This section has been corrected on 7 June 2021, column 1MC — read correction]