Governments around the world have faced unprecedented demand for essential goods, services, and work during this pandemic. All public authorities in the UK, including the Government and the devolved administrations, have had to prioritise quick action.
For the avoidance of doubt, this is not a change to the public procurement regulations. There are well-established procedures in the Public Contracts Regulations for handling extremely urgent procurements, and they have been used by the Government and other public authorities. Other countries followed similar urgent procurement processes. It was also made clear throughout that value for money must be achieved for taxpayers, and good commercial judgement used.
The National Audit Office has found no conflict of interest between ministers and contracting companies, and no evidence of ministers’ involvement in procurement decisions or contract management. Where potential conflicts arose, ministers have declared their interest properly.
As the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care has acknowledged, unfortunately, not all the detail of every PPE contract awarded was published within set time frames as required by law. While this is disappointing, I do appreciate the unique pressures that the Department for Health and Social Care was under last year, and work is well underway to tackle the backlog in publication and return to complete compliance.
I am assured that there was no intention to withhold information from the public, and the allegation that the Government deliberately deprioritised compliance with transparency obligations was not accepted by the Court.