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Covid contracts: the struggle for scrutiny

Transparency in public office is essential to any democracy, but the UK government’s aversion to scrutiny of its procurement track record during the pandemic – an aversion now the focus of judicial and legislative challenges – offers a hint of what may lie ahead for a health service battling almost constant political interference while grappling with underfunding, staff shortages and a life-threatening virus.

One of those challenges – a judicial review (requested by not-for-profit campaign organisation Good Law Project [GLP], alongside a group of three cross-party MPs) of the government’s continuing failure to disclose details of £4bn-worth of pandemic-related contracts – was the subject of a hearing at the Administrative Court last Thursday.

The case began last October, when it was revealed that the Department of Health & Social Care (DHSC) had spent £17bn on covid-related goods and services over the previous six months, but contract details for just £12.4bn had so far been made available to the public, in contravention of legal requirements as well as government guidance.

As part of its case, in November GLP said that the average time the DHSC took to come clean about unpublished contracts was, at that stage, 78 days.

Full story in The Lowdown, 9 February 2021

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