byline times

‘High Profile’ Government Contacts Given Priority in PPE Procurement, Leaked Documents Reveal
Sam Bright, Byline Times, Oct 29 2020

Johnson visits Rodda’s Cornish Clotted Cream,
near Redruth in Cornwall. Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA

The Government put measures in place for “high profile” contacts to receive special treatment in the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE), leaked documents appear to reveal. The Good Law Project has been handed internal Government directives related to the treatment of PPE suppliers. In one section, it is stated that “high profile contacts require a rapid response and managing through the process.” This line of communication is therefore handled by the Government’s “High Priority Appraisals Team,” the document suggests. Byline Times has revealed that PPE contracts worth at least £526.3m have been awarded to companies with links to the Conservative Party and many of these could well have been managed through the above, expedited system. The leaked documents also appear to reveal that the Government does not have structures in place to scrutinise inflated prices from suppliers. A screenshot of a policy document suggests that the Government asks suppliers to list their prices in relation to the per-unit industry average. It says, verbatim:

If greater than 25% variation, explanation why price achieved is reasonable to be provided, explain why prepayment is necessary, action to reduce is taken.

It is therefore implied that, if the PPE is still costed above the average industry rate, yet by no more than 25%, no action will be taken by the Government. Byline Times has not seen the full document so this could be addressed elsewhere. However, it would seem strange not to be included in this section. This is particularly important given the Government’s budget for the procurement of PPE during the pandemic stands at £13.8b. Very few of the contracts have also gone to competitive tender, meaning that multiple firms could not compete on price for the same deal. Jolyon Maugham QC, director of the Good Law Project, says:

The information that Government would buy at 25% above the price paid to ‘regular’ suppliers was a licence to make enormous margins. There are certainly questions to be asked about whether other politically connected ‘VIPs’ benefitted from lucrative inside information about pricing.

As covered extensively by Byline Times, many of the deals awarded to private sector companies by the Government have been strange, to say the least. Deals worth millions of pounds have been awarded to a small luxury packaging company, a 44 day-old firm, a dormant company with one director, a lifestyle firm with no trading history, a hotel carpeting company, and a fashion designer based in Miami. Yet, despite these questionable contracts, the Government has been intransigent to scrutiny, dodging written questions from opposition MPs, and only releasing sparse information about the deals. Judging by these new details exposed by the Good Law Project, the Government perhaps feels that it has plenty to hide. Shadow Cabinet Office Minister Rachel Reeves says:

These disturbing new findings confirm suspicions that this Tory Government put the profits of its friends and donors above the interests of frontline workers. Labour has previously called for an investigation from the National Audit Office into this Government’s strange procurement decisions. It is vital this new evidence is included.

The Cabinet Office has been approached for comment.

Outsourcing Giant Paid £1,800 A DAY for Test and Trace Role
Sam Bright, Byline Times, Oct 28 2020

Corporate outsourcing giant Capita was paid £1,822 a day to supply one senior staff member for the Government’s Test and Trace programme, Byline Times can reveal. Government documents released earlier this month show that Capita, a billion-pound firm headquartered in London, received a £120,250 contract to supply a ‘Chief Product Officer’ for Test and Trace, between Jun 1 and Aug 31. Representing 66 working days, Capita was effectively paid £1,822 a day for filling this role, equivalent to £477,356 a-year. The Government required “consultancy services for the test and trace team” from “someone who knows the system and is able to deliver the key work on COVID-19 response for the Sec State and for the Dept of Health and Social Care,” the contract description noted. This is not the first time that the Government has controversially outsourced Coronavirus work to private sector firms charging eye-watering bills. Earlier this month, Sky News revealed that some consultants were being paid £7k/day to work on the Test and Trace system. Meanwhile, a separate corporate giant, McKinsey, charged the Government £14k/day for six weeks’ work in helping to define the “vision, purpose and narrative” of the new National Institute for Health Protection (NIHP). The body, a replacement for Public Health England, is currently chaired by Dido Harding, a former employee of McKinsey along with her husband, Government ‘Anti-Corruption Champion’ John Penrose MP. Indeed, the onset of the pandemic has been accompanied by a major outsourcing campaign. Corporate behemoth Serco has been drafted in to run England’s centralised contact tracing regime, with the whole operation receiving a budget of £12b. Meanwhile, Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock has assigned a £13.8b budget for the procurement of personal protective equipment from private sector firms. As chronicled by Byline Times, a good proportion of this spending has been given to firms with questionable records in the field of PPE procurement including: a small luxury packaging company, a 44 day-old firm, a dormant company with one director, a lifestyle firm with no trading history, a hotel carpeting company, and a fashion designer based in Miami. Contracts worth at least £526.3m have also been awarded to companies with ties to the Conservative Party. And the private sector has not just been cashing in on the Coronavirus crisis. Byline Times revealed earlier this week that six of the country’s largest consultancy firms have each won contracts worth £30m for the delivery of Brexit. Working alongside civil servants, most of whom will be paid much less than the consultants, they will be required to assist with projects related to immigration, international trade, food, agriculture, animal welfare and health-care supply.

But outsourcing hasn’t proven to be a silver bullet for governments, especially in recent years. Both Serco and G4S, another outsourcing powerhouse, were fined for fraud and false accounting over their electronic criminal tagging service for the Ministry of Justice. Serco was fined £19m, while G4S was forced to pay £44.4m. G4S has also been harshly criticised for the way it has run certain immigration detention centres, while in 2018 construction outsourcing giant Carillion went bust, after amassing £1.5b of debt. Capita hasn’t managed to avoid controversy, either. The firm, which works extensively with the Government, has been criticised in some quarters for its past work. Shadow Cabinet Office Minister Rachel Reeves recently wrote for Byline Times, referring to Serco’s role in the contact-tracing system:

With little regard for any transparency or value for money, this Conservative Government has abandoned common sense to waste billions indulging its addiction to outsourcing.

The pressure is mounting for the Government to explain whether, and how, these deals provide value for money. Capita declined to comment on the record, while the Dept of Health and Social Care did not respond to Byline Times‘ request for comment, by the time of publication.

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