Thursday, 12 November 2020

Public Procurement: Award of contracts by UK government

 You might be aware that there is growing concern about the award of contracts by the UK government during the Covid-19 pandemic without going through the usual tender processes.

This is of great concern, because of course the usual processes (mostly tenders) are there to ensure that our taxpayers money is spent in ways that are both effective and fair.  You can argue about the effectiveness, but the "fairness" should not be an issue.

The government's argument is of course that the current crisis requires a different approach.  Research by They Buy For You suggests that the UK government is taking a different line to other European countries who have mostly followed the existing procedures.  In the UK we have directly awarded 99%, resulting in the UK accounting for more than half of the Covid-19 direct awards across Europe.

Now taking such a different approach (one that risks fairness, openness and transparency) can be justified if it produces significantly better results.  

Your opinion may differ, but I don't see our UK Covid-19 response as significantly better than the rest of Europe.

What we have done is justified the award of large contracts (£100m upwards) to people known to the government without a competitive process.  I am sure that the government will say that the contracts went to good people.  But of course they cannot prove that they went to the best people.  Therefore the country risks being damaged by award of contracts on the basis of contacts and personal relationships rather than objective criteria.  No matter the intentions, this is how corruption, fraud and cronyism get into public sector procurement.

Pedro Telles points out that the Public Accounts Committee has been very critical of the government's approach.  

In a time of national crisis we deserve better than this.

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