Two weeks ago on 3rd November I wrote here after signing this petition which has the title “Hold a public inquiry into Government contracts granted during Covid-19”. It was authored by a chap called Christopher Humphris who set it out as a very short, clear and uncomplicated document. The rest of the text was “There should be a public inquiry into Government contracts granted during Covid-19. Many contracts have been granted without full and open procurement processes. A public inquiry would be able to ascertain whether contracts had been procured fairly and represent value for money for tax payers.” He started it at the beginning of October and after around 2 weeks (by the 16th October) it had gained 10,000 signatures which demanded a response from the Government. When I spotted it and signed it two weeks later, it had nearly 80,000 signatures and today it has reached 111,000 signatures. The petition reached 100k on 11th November and that is the point at which Parliament can consider holding a debate on the subject so we can expect a response in due course. In terms of the Government response, the Cabinet Office which is led by Boris Johnson finally got off its fence late on the 11th November and sent a response which completely ignored the very brief request from the petition. In one sense that was not a shock, but what was very encouraging was that late last night the petitions team that is part of the UK Government and Parliament published a response which was very clear.
Dear Ian Chisnall, You recently signed the petition “Hold a public inquiry into Government contracts granted during Covid-19”. The Petitions Committee (the group of MPs who oversee the petitions system) have considered the Government’s response to this petition. They felt that the response did not directly address the request of petition and have therefore written back to the Government to ask them to provide a revised response. When the Committee have received a revised response from the Government, this will be published on the website and you will receive an email. Thanks,
This is very encouraging and it is about time that Parliament stands up and challenges the Government for their responses that all too often ignore what we are asking for. The initial response from the Government is below:
The National Audit Office, the public spending watchdog, is currently looking into Government procurement activity during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Working with the private sector has been a vital part of the Government’s response to tackling the COVID-19 pandemic, with private sector workers standing alongside those from the public sector on the front line. Indeed, the private sector has assisted us to deliver over 15,000 ventilators in under four months to support the NHS; procure 32 billion items of PPE for healthcare workers; and increase testing capacity to 519,770 by the end of October.
Being able to procure at speed has been critical in providing that response and at the outset of the coronavirus outbreak, we made it clear to all public authorities that they may need to procure new services with extreme urgency. This is not a change to the public procurement regulations; there are already well-established procedures in the Public Contracts Regulations for handling extremely urgent procurements and they have been used by a variety of public authorities including the UK Government.
We also made it clear that authorities must continue to achieve value for money for taxpayers, use good commercial judgement and publish the details of any awards made, in line with Government transparency guidelines. All contracts over £10,000 are published on Contracts Finder on GOV.UK
The Government is committed to adopting and encouraging greater transparency in its commercial activity. There are existing rigorous central controls in place to challenge spend robustly and to ensure that the actions of Government contracting authorities are open, fair and transparent.
The National Audit Office has commenced an independent investigation to set out the facts relating to government procurement during the COVID-19 pandemic covering the period up to 31 July 2020. This will include, among other things, an assessment of procurement activity during the pandemic and the Government’s management of procurement risks. The report will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny by the Public Accounts Committee in the usual way.