Last Friday, Peter Geoghegan and David Conn had an article published by Open Democracy headlined “Key Cummings and Gove ally given COVID-19 contract without open tender … Cabinet Office accused of breaching rules after handing £840,000 contract to PR firm run by co-author of the 2019 Tory manifesto for focus groups initially listed as 'EU Exit Comms’”. It was a very close ally of Cummings and Gove, too.
“The government justified the absence of a competitive tendering process, which would have enabled other companies to bid, under emergency regulations that allow services to be urgently commissioned in response to the COVID-19 crisis … However the Cabinet Office’s public record states that portions of the work, which involved conducting focus groups, related to Brexit rather than COVID-19”. And there was more.
“A Cabinet Office spokesman said that this was due to bookkeeping methods, insisting that all the focus group research done by Public First was in fact related to the coronavirus crisis … Government work is legally required to be put out for competitive tender, so that a company best qualified to carry it out is appointed, except under exceptional circumstances such as an unforeseen emergency”. This smells moderately ripe.
But, as the Guardian’s George Monbiot has observed, the story has not been picked up elsewhere, not even by broadcasters. He quite reasonably asks why contracts are being awarded to companies, some of whom have so little in assets that they are being paid significant amounts up front - payments which exceed the Government’s limits.
He goes on to tell “There are plenty of other cases: such as the employment agency with net assets of £623 that was awarded an £18m government contract to supply face masks; the confectionery wholesaler that according to the [Good Law Project] was given a £100m contract to supply PPE; and the £250m channelled through a ‘family office’ registered in Mauritius, specialising in currency trading, offshore property and private equity, also to supply protective medical equipment. Altogether, billions of pounds’ worth of contracts appear to have been granted, often to surprising companies, without competition”.HERE). The CrowdJustice page is titled “Just how does public money end up in the pockets of Cummings' friends?” And Monbiot has this caution.
“This is not just about value for money, important as that is. Transparent, competitive tendering is a crucial defence against cronyism and corruption. It is essential to integrity in public life and public trust in politics. But the government doesn’t seem to care … We know it cheats and lies. It knows that we know, and it doesn’t care”.
It seems the broadcasters, and most of the press, doesn’t care either. Worrying.