Sunday 21 February 2021 / 6:00 AM Rachel Reeves

Labour sets out questions for Hancock after judge rules he acted unlawfully

Labour has set out the questions the Health Secretary must answer to restore public confidence, after he was found to have acted unlawfully over the award of contracts.

Writing to Matt Hancock following Friday’s court ruling, Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Rachel Reeves MP asks:

  • Will you commit to publishing all outstanding contracts, winding down emergency procurement powers and reintroducing tendering, in light of the ruling and the huge amount of waste and cronyism marring Covid procurement?
  • When do you expect the government will find the billions of pounds worth of PPE, which you recently commissioned outside consultants to track down?
  • Do you think the government should have given Public First a Covid contract?
  • With the new NHS White Paper assigning increasing powers to the Secretary of State to hand out contracts, how does the government propose to hold itself accountable on who those contracts are handed to?
  • Does the government believe it is impossible to act with speed on PPE procurement without handing out contracts to friends and donors of the Conservative party?
  • Why won’t the government publish details of contracts awarded through its VIP fast lane? Given £1.7 billion has gone through this lane, do you think taxpayers deserve to know?

Almost £2 billion worth of contracts have gone to Conservative friends and donors since the start of the pandemic, according to Labour’s analysis.

The party has asked the government about the VIP fast lane on seven occasions, without answers.

The National Audit Office revealed in November that companies were 10 times more likely to be awarded work if they were referred by ministers and MPs onto the government’s VIP high priority lane.

Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Rachel Reeves MP said:

“Matt Hancock cannot simply brush off this court ruling. He must commit to cleaning up the cronyism and waste that has marred government contracting during the pandemic.

“We have tried to get answers about who is getting VIP treatment but the Conservatives are refusing to tell us. Now we know the Health Secretary acted unlawfully, these are no longer questions he can ignore.

“The government must publish the outstanding contracts and details of the VIP lane as a first step to restoring public confidence.”

Full text of the letter to Matt Hancock

Dear Secretary of State,

I am writing today following the judicial review ruling yesterday by the High Court that the “Secretary of State for Health and Social Care acted unlawfully by failing to comply with the Transparency Policy” and that “there is now no dispute that, in a substantial number of cases, the Secretary of State breached his legal obligation to publish Contract Award Notices within 30 days of the award of contracts.”

In handing down the judgment, the Judge also said: “The Secretary of State spent vast quantities of public money on pandemic-related procurements during 2020. The public were entitled to see who this money was going to, what it was being spent on and how the relevant contracts were awarded.”

The Judge went on to say that if Government had complied with its legal obligations, there would have been the ability “to scrutinise CANs and contract provisions, ask questions about them and raise any issues with oversight bodies such as the NAO or via MPs in Parliament.”

Given this clear legal ruling, and recent serious stories of cronyism and waste at the heart of this Government’s pandemic procurement, I am writing to you today to ask you six questions which I hope you will urgently answer:

  • Will you commit to publishing all outstanding contracts, winding down emergency procurement powers and reintroducing tendering, in light of the ruling and the huge amount of waste and cronyism marring Covid procurement?
  • When do you expect the government will find the billions of pounds worth of PPE, which you recently commissioned outside consultants to track down?
  • Do you think the government should have given Public First a Covid contract?
  • With the new NHS White Paper assigning increasing powers to the Secretary of State to hand out contracts, how does the government propose to hold itself accountable on who those contracts are handed to?
  • Does the government believe it is impossible to act with speed on PPE procurement without handing out contracts to friends and donors of the Conservative party?
  • Why won’t the government publish details of contracts awarded through its VIP fast lane? Given £1.7 billion has gone through this lane, do you think taxpayers deserve to know?

I know you will appreciate how important it is that taxpayers know how their money is being spent through these contracts, that the government wants to tackle claims of cronyism and that, given this ruling of unlawfulness, that the government and yourself will do everything possible to maximise transparency, accountability and scrutiny.

Many thanks,

Rachel Reeves MP
Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster