24 April 2003 | Robin Parker
Spending watchdogs have urged the government to spell out when purchasers should bypass procurement procedures to protect national security.
The National Audit Office (NAO) said the Department of Health (DoH) should publish rules on when the procurement of vaccines against diseases such as smallpox could be done in secret to guard against terrorism.
The NAO cleared the DoH over a £32 million smallpox contract it confidentially awarded to supplier PowderJect a year ago.
In its report, Procurement of Vaccines by the Department of Health, the NAO said there was "no link" between the deal and PowderJect's £100,000 donations to the Labour Party.
The DoH is currently assessing bids for a second smallpox contract, to be awarded in an open competition. PowderJect has emerged as the favourite to win.
But Jeremy Pope, executive director of anti-corruption organisation Transparency International, said the national security claim in the PowderJect case was "baloney" and that there were few instances in which such an argument was justified.
"The information British civil servants hold is owned by the public, and unless procurement can be seen to be working openly, people will assume the worst, as this case has proved."