John asks questions about Government covid contracts.

Question by John to the Chancellor and Minister for the Cabinet Office:

With reference to the National Audit Office report on Government procurement during the covid-19 pandemic, published 18 November 2020, [I would like to ask] whether the same standard of due diligence checks was carried out on potential suppliers and contracts in the (a) high priority lane and (b) normal lane.

Answer from Ministers:

Being able to procure at speed has been critical in providing the Government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

We welcome the NAO report which recognises that the government ‘needed to procure with extreme urgency’ and ‘secured unprecedented volumes of essential supplies necessary to protect front-line workers’.

All contracts, including those designed to tackle coronavirus issues, must continue to achieve value for money for taxpayers, use good commercial judgement and the details of any awards made should be published as soon as possible in line with Government transparency guidelines.

Robust processes are in place for the award of government contracts. PPE offers were assessed using the same eight step process, including quality checks, price controls and other due diligence, no matter where the original referral came from. This eight step process has been published in the NAO’s report. For further details please see the statement on in a new tab)

We are committed to transparency in public procurement. Details of central government contracts above £10,000 are published on Contracts Finder. We regret that some details have not been uploaded in a timely fashion. All will be published as soon as possible and significant information is already available online.

The forthcoming Green Paper on transforming the UK’s public procurement regulations will strengthen our longstanding and essential policies that are fundamental to public procurement including transparency, ensuring value for money and fair treatment of suppliers. As part of this, we will propose legislating to reinforce that contracting authorities would need to publish basic disclosure information, including the basis of award decisions.

We have always accepted that there are lessons to be learned from how we responded to this unprecedented global pandemic and the government is fully committed to doing so. We will address the NAO report’s recommendations in due course. As I stated in my answer on 12 November (opens in a new tab), we are engaged in both internal and external audit to review how our procurements during this period have been conducted.

Responding to the answer from Government, John wrote on social media: “Got answers to my Questions on Government covid contracts. Good that all suppliers faced same quality checks no matter who recommended them, but publication backlog of contract details still needs fixing. Big post-brexit opportunity for faster, more digital & transparent, less bureaucratic Government buying process so small firms can challenge big incumbents easily!”