The prime minister’s former advisor Dominic Cummings allegedly attempted to bypass procurement rules to award a £530,000 grant, according to reports.
Emails leaked to the BBC, the Guardian and Source Material suggest at the start of the pandemic Cummings told staff to “immediately” issue the grant with “no procurement” to a not-for-profit organisation.
Other emails showed that civil servants had concerns about whether this was in line with regulations.
Cummings allegedly told civil servants at NHSX – a governmental NHS technology body – to grant the money to not-for-profit organisation Global Change Data Lab, which produces statistics on Covid under Our World in Data.
The email said: “Someone please ensure that they have the 530k within 24 hours from now and report back to me it’s been sent.
“No procurement, no lawyers, no meetings, no delay please – just send immediately.”
Internal guidance from the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) says all grants should be subject to a series of timely checks and criteria. In some cases grants of more than £100,000 should be referred to an advice panel in the Cabinet Office.
In a statement Global Change Data Lab said ultimately it followed its own due process, applying formally to DHSC and receiving a benchmarked grant disbursed over several months.
“We want to emphasise that we followed all our due diligence processes and support investigations into how public funds are used,” it said.
The allegations follow scathing attacks on DHSC’s procurement process by Cummings last month. He told Parliament’s Science and Technology Committee that the procurement system DHSC was operating under was “completely hopeless”, and that the department “was completely and utterly overwhelmed” in handling the coronavirus pandemic.
In an evidence session examining the government’s response to the pandemic, Cummings said he had branded health procurement a “smoking ruin” because while there were lots of great people within the department, “there wasn't any system set up to deal with proper emergency procurement”.
In an earlier session he had told MPs the DHSC's “total disaster” in procuring PPE led to the government’s decision to create a separate task force for vaccines.
The DHSC has been approached for comment.
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