Press release 12th May 2021

Coronavirus inquiry must examine how Government spent public money

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Track and Trace

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The COVID-19 pandemic has required a rapid public health response on a scale and speed unseen in modern times. Whilst those procuring goods and services have sought to expedite the emergency response, we observe a pattern of behaviour whereby critical safeguards for protecting the public purse have been thrown aside without adequate justification.

Emerging evidence from investigative journalists, the National Audit Office (NAO) and public interest litigation highlights these in startling detail.

Using evidence from these reports and analysis of available data, we identify two key issues concerning procurement practices during the pandemic. We also identify a third, more general issue relating to the mechanisms for ensuring integrity in public office.

From these findings, we propose ten steps that could address some of the concerns raised over the last year, and help avoid similar mistakes being repeated in the future. None of these are particularly costly, with three either complementing or endorsing proposals already included in the UK Government’s Green Paper for reform. If implemented effectively, they have the potential to increase transparency, deliver greater accountability, and reduce the risks associated with contracting, both during a crisis and in normal times.

We hope this provides a critical, yet constructive contribution towards recent debates. Some of what we propose may be uncomfortable for those of which we ask it – subjecting oneself to greater scrutiny is seldom a natural imperative for those in public office – yet these steps are critical to setting the record straight.

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May 12, 2021 - The Government’s approach to public procurement during the COVID-19 pandemic must be explicitly examined as part of the public inquiry into the handling of the crisis.

The Prime Minister today announced that an independent public inquiry will be held in spring 2022, with the exact scope of the review yet to be determined.   

Research by Transparency International UK last month concluded that the way the Government handled bids for supplying personal protective equipment (PPE) and other COVID-19 response contracts appears partisan and systemically biased in favour of those with political access.

Our Track and Trace report identifies 73 contracts worth more than £3.7 billion, equivalent to 20 percent of COVID-19 contracts between February and November 2020, that raise one or more red flags for possible corruption.

 

Daniel Bruce, Chief Executive of Transparency International UK, said:

“Our latest research unearthed the eyewatering amounts of public money - running into billions of pounds - where there are questions around corruption red flags. It is now essential that the integrity of public spending and procurement be put under the microscope as part of this inquiry. With more spent on PPE than the annual budget of the Home Office, the public have a right to know if their money was spent wisely and properly along with wider scrutiny of the response.”

 

Notes to editors:

Transparency International UK is the UK’s leading independent anti-corruption organisation and part of the global Transparency International movement.

Published last month, our Track and Trace report is the most comprehensive study to date of public procurement during the pandemic and involved a painstaking review of nearly 1,000 contracts worth a total of £18 billion.