Operation Yellowhammer said disruption at ports could last for up to six months in the event of a no-deal Brexit © Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
Operation Yellowhammer said disruption at ports could last for up to six months in the event of a no-deal Brexit © Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Government ‘too secretive’ over £97m Brexit consultancy contracts

MPs have criticised government departments for being “overly secretive” about consultancy contracts worth £97m which had been awarded as part of Brexit preparations. 

In a report the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said departments were taking far too long to publish details of consultancy contracts and failed to meet the government’s own basic standards of transparency.

The government’s own guidance calls for contract details to be published within 90 days, however for the 40 contracts awarded across government, the average time taken to publish contract information was 119 days.

Departments were also found to have published information about the award of contracts but often not published the contract itself and some contracts that had been published were heavily redacted, making the documents “meaningless”. 

“Departments have been overly secretive about what the consultants are doing, as they have been before in providing information on other aspects of the Brexit preparations. When departments have published information on consultancy work, usually later than they should have, they have failed to meet the government’s own transparency standards,” the report said.

The PAC also voiced concern over the nature of the consultancy work procured by government departments, stating it seemed to have been focused on “thinking and shaping” rather than getting practical things done. 

It also found 96% of consultancy contracts had been awarded to six large firms despite previous government commitments to contract with more SMEs. 

Meanwhile, ministers published the previously leaked Operation Yellowhammer report which detailed “reasonable worst-case” scenarios in a no-deal Brexit. 

The report said disruption to flow over the Channel Straits could lead to “significant disruption lasting up to six months which would have an impact on medicines, medical supplies and certain types of fresh foods”.

The report said on day one of a no-deal exit 50-85% of HGVs travelling via the short Channel Straits “may not be ready for French customs” and the flow of lorries could be reduced to 40-60% of current levels, which might last for three months.

“Certain types of fresh food supply will decrease. Critical dependencies for the food supply chain (such as key input ingredients, chemicals and packaging) may be in shorter supply,” said the report.

“In combination these two factors will not cause an overall shortage of food in the UK but will reduce availability and choice of products and will increase price, which could impact vulnerable groups.”

It added: “Protests and counter-protests will take place across the UK and may absorb significant amounts of police resource. There may also be a rise in public disorder and commmunity tensions.”

The Freight Transport Association said: “The report shows that there is still significant detail to be clarified if Britain is to keep trading efficiently after Brexit. Leaving the logistics industry still waiting for detail on trading arrangements after Brexit is to hinder the very businesses that will be relied upon to keep Britain trading through a costly and difficult no-deal Brexit.” 

Meanwhile, trade coalition Port Zones UK has called on the government to grant special economic status to airports and seaports to stimulate international investment, bring back manufacturing and lower prices for consumers post Brexit.

The move follows the announcement by the UK government last month that it was planning to create up to 10 free ports across the UK after leaving the EU. The free port zones would allow firms to import goods and then re-export them outside normal tax and customs rules.

In a report, Port Zones UK said its aim was to promote regional growth based around key UK transport hubs, through enhanced “Enterprise, Development and Free Trade Zones”.

It added that  the UK’s imminent departure from the European Union has created a fresh impetus for innovative growth-generating policy in regional and coastal communities.

Richard Ballantyne, of Port Zones UK, and chief executive at the British Ports Association said: “In a global marketplace where competition for capital, resources and skilled personnel is fierce, it’s crucial that vital transport nexuses – like airports and seaports – are given the necessary business conditions to continue to grow.”

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