Tuesday, 2 March 2021

Matt Hancock - acted unlawfully over contract transparency

 Second good article from Supply Management.

This time it is about the controversy over the failure of Matt Hancock (Health Secretary) to publish contract award notices within 30 days of award.

A few points about this.

Firstly, publishing late is not evidence of corruption, collusion, or "money for mates" as was suggested by some commentators.

Secondly, publishing late does raise eyebrows because if you were indulging in unethical/illegal behaviours in awarding contracts you would probably try to hide it (e.g. by publishing award notices either very late or not at all).  This is not saying there is no smoke without fire, but you can understand why people do say it.  This is why transparency has to be at the heart of public sector procurement - only if we can see what is going on can we be reassured that our taxpayer's money is being spent in the best way.  Late publishing of award notices may seem a minor issue, but it undermines public trust in government procurement.

Thirdly, there is no good reason for the late publication.  It is a relatively minor effort and should be undertaken as a matter of routine.  It is unconnected to the reasons why we may have gone for direct awards of contracts during the Covid-19 crisis (which may or may not be justified - it is a separate issue).  Personally, I suspect the hand of a well known provocateur at the heart of government who celebrated cocking a snook at the rule of law, standards and processes.  Thankfully he has gone (you know who I mean).

Finally, what is clearly wrong is that Matt Hancock authorised the use of government funds to fight a legal case it clearly had no chance of winning, and in which the government was unquestionably in the wrong.  This is an abuse of the legal system, and a waste of taxpayer's money.  The government's own legal team must have told the minister he had no chance of winning.  Instead Mr. Hancock decided to waste time and money during a health crisis.  

Whether the government was prudent or unwise in not having competitive tendering for PPE is something quite separate, and should be studied by an independent review.  It genuinely could be either case.

No comments: