Labour calls for 'wind down' of emergency Covid procurement

Will Green is news editor of Supply Management
8 February 2021

The Labour Party has accused the government of “cronyism” in the award of Covid contracts and called for a “wind down” in the use of emergency procurement procedures.

In a speech Rachel Reeves, shadow chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, described “dodgy contracts worth enormous sums of public money awarded to the friends and donors of the Tory party”.

Reeves claimed 99% of government contracts in response to Covid had not gone out to competitive tender.

“Labour’s own analysis of government data today shows almost £2 billion of public contracts have been awarded to businesses with clear links to the Tory party without any tender at all,” she said.

Reeves said she had written to the 10 largest beneficiaries of government contracts with links to the Conservative Party “asking them to disclose their profits from the Covid contracts”.

She called on the government to “wind down the use of emergency procurement”, which allows for competitive tendering processes to be bypassed in extreme circumstances.

“Supply chains have been established, and while there remain challenges and responding with speed stays essential – including with securing our borders – there is not a case for the continued widespread use of emergency measures on procurement,” she said.

Reeves said the government must commit to publish all outstanding contracts by the end of February, and she said where contracts don’t deliver against requirements, money should be clawed back.

She added under a Labour government “we will see the biggest wave of insourcing of public services for a generation”.

The National Audit Office said in November 2020 that PPE suppliers with political links were 10 times more likely to win government contracts but it found no evidence of ministerial involvement in procurement decisions.

A government spokesperson said: “As the National Audit Office has made clear, there is no evidence of ministerial involvement in procurement decisions or contract management. We have robust rules and processes in place in order to ensure that conflicts of interest do not occur.

“Contracts are awarded on a combination of price and quality, not the political or other affiliations of owners or stakeholders.

“During this unprecedented global pandemic, we have needed to procure contracts with extreme urgency to secure the vital supplies required to protect frontline NHS workers and the public. We make no apology for that.

“We have strict protocols in place for spending public money to ensure we get critical equipment to where it needs to go as quickly as possible, whilst also ensuring value for money for the taxpayer.”

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