Transparency International UK have just published new research on procurement during the pandemic. Track and Trace 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.
The report details how critical safeguards designed to prevent corruption were suspended without adequate justification. Transparency International UK identify 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.
Of particular concern is the ‘VIP’ or ‘high priority’ lane used to fast track offers of PPE from companies referred by MPs, peers and senior officials. Our analysis of the available evidence is consistent with there being systemic bias towards those with connections to the party of government in Westminster, despite continued claims by the Government to the contrary.
The report concludes that poor record keeping combined with opaque, uncompetitive contracting and a suspiciously high number of awards to companies with political connections has undermined public trust and justifiably fuelled criticism of the Government.
Key findings include:
- Contracts awarded to companies with political connections:
Twenty-four PPE contracts worth £1.6 billion were awarded to those with known political connections to Conservative Party.
Three contracts worth £536 million went to politically connected companies for testing related services.
- Contracts awarded without competition:
Between February and November 2020, 98.9 percent of COVID-19 related contracts by value (£17.8 billion) were awarded without any form of competition, many without adequate justification.
- Contracts awarded to companies with no track record of supplying goods or services:
Fourteen companies incorporated in 2020 received contracts worth more than £620 million, of which 13 contracts totalling £255 million went to 10 firms that were less than 60 days old.
Losing the money trail
Whitehall has faced understandable resource challenges, but our study catalogues the woefully inadequate arrangements for enabling scrutiny over the use of taxpayers’ money.
- Contracts awarded to politically connected companies were more likely to be published late.
Details of 93 percent (28) of the 30 contracts awarded to politically connected companies were published late, compared to 70 percent (688) of the 970 without. Seven of these late contracts awarded to politically connected suppliers went unpublished for more than 100 days.
Seventy two percent (711) of COVID-related contracts awarded during our sample period, worth £13.3 billion, were reported after the 30-day legal deadline, with £7.4 billion of this total reported more than 100 days after the contract was awarded. In comparison, on average it took Ukraine less than a day to publish information on 103,263 COVID-19 contracts after their award during the same period.
The ned for greater transparency is fundamental and hopefully this research wil help our broader advoacy efforts. It would be great to hear what you think and if you have any questions.