Labour is demanding answers from the Government over the multi-million pound contracts given to the private sector as result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Rachel Reeves MP, Labour’s Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, insisted there must be “transparency and accountability for the huge sums of taxpayers’ money” involved to ensure public confidence in the Government’s response to Covid-19.
With normal procurement rules suspended, it appears that many contracts have been awarded without a formal bidding process, and there is little available information on the value, function or key performance indicators of these contracts.
She outlined her concerns in a letter to Michael Gove, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office,
Ms Reeves called on the Minister to answer a series of detailed questions over the Government’s procurement process in response to Covid-19, and in particular the performance of many contractors, including serious problems with the availability of personal protective equipment (PPE), delays in the rollout of testing and in delivering test results, and concerns about the approach being taken to contact tracing.
Labour also called on Mr Gove to commit to reporting regularly to Parliament on Government procurement related to Covid-19.
In her letter, Ms Reeves said:
“Labour wants to support the government wherever it can to deliver the most effective response to the Covid-19 pandemic possible.
“I ask these questions in the spirit of constructive opposition: transparency about the delivery of some of the key aspects of the government’s response to coronavirus is crucial if we are to have effective scrutiny.
“I hope that you will agree that the value and performance of government contracts which have been awarded in response to the pandemic is a matter of public interest, and that transparency in relation to these contracts can only assist the government in delivering a more effective response.”
The letter asks for more information about the processes by which firms have been appointed, the responsibilities that they have been tasked with, and the key performance indicators by which their performance will be measured. Furthermore, other questions in the letter included:
• Why is the government only funding the recruitment of 18,000 manual contact tracers when many experts believe as many as 50,000 may be needed?
• In relation to the contact tracing app, please could you explain the role that the companies Palantir and Faculty have in relation to the app and the procurement process which led to the appointment of these firms?
• What is the performance of testing centres, in relation to the numbers of tests, and timescales for delivering results at each testing centre?
• Please could you confirm whether the 50,000 tests flown to America related to the Deloitte contact, and more generally provide a briefing on the capacity of UK labs to provide timely test results at the scale required?
• What is the current balance between UK-based and overseas procurement of PPE?