Spending watchdog investigating pandemic procurement

Will Green is news editor of Supply Management
22 September 2020

The UK spending watchdog is investigating government procurement during the coronavirus pandemic.

Gareth Davies, head of the National Audit Office (NAO), said it was looking at procurement around personal protective equipment (PPE), ventilators and the Nightingale hospitals.

Speaking to The Guardian’s Politics Weekly podcast, Davies said: “We have got very detailed work under way on the procurement of PPE. We are looking at the purchase of ventilators, the construction of the Nightingale hospitals.

“We are looking at government’s procurements in the pandemic, not just on PPE but other significant areas as well.”

Responding to spend on consultants during the pandemic, Davies said: “It’s very important the government hasn’t got itself into a new mode of awarding work without competition, where maybe now there is time to do those things properly.”

In March the government issued a Procurement Policy Note that said contracts could be awarded without normal competitive tendering to buy goods, services and works “with extreme urgency” in response to the pandemic.

Labour MP Rushanara Ali asked Boris Johnson during Prime Minister’s Questions about “£150m spent on faulty masks” and “a staggering one billion pounds worth of contracts awarded without proper due diligence”.

The Open Contracting Partnership has claimed $130bn has been spent by governments worldwide on contracts to manage Covid, with a “lack of timely and open information about basic contracting details makes these deals highly vulnerable to waste, fraud and other misuses”.

In June research company Tussell said the UK public sector had awarded contracts worth £1.6bn in response to Covid, including £33m on consultancy, mostly without competitive tender.

Malcolm Harrison, group CEO, CIPS, said in a blog: “I am sure that in [the pandemic] rush to secure the best outcomes there will have been many mistakes made. But, I am also sure that buyers took decisions mostly with good intentions at heart.”

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