The National Audit Office, the Public spending watchdog has criticised the government for failures in the award of more than £17bn of contracts to private companies to tackle the coronavirus crisis, for errors and potential conflict of interest including lack of transparency.
They said the Cabinet Office and the Department of Health and Social Care had failed to explain why some companies with government connections or poor due diligence records were chosen to provide critical services during the pandemic, such as the supply of Personal Protective Equipments, or consulting or policy advice.
Its findings highlight the risks to public money that have arisen from the government’s vast use of contractors during the pandemic and an unprecedented number of awards through which contracts totalling £17.3bn were awarded without tender.
In the Miami case, Saiger was awarded £250m to provide PPE to the NHS, paid £21m to a consultant to broker a deal for the kit.
Emergency rules allowed the government department to procure services and equipment quickly but have concerns about bias and the quality of the services delivered.
The NAO highlights contracts where the supplier had a close link to Whitehall, which included a £550, 000 consulting deal with Public First, whose two directors previously worked for Michael Gove, Cabinet Office minister.
The Cabinet Office failed to document any consideration of any potential conflict of interest when awarding the contracts according to NAO.
NAO also said ministers failed to consider a potential conflict of interest in a £252m contract to supply PPE with Ayanda Capital the private investment firm’s board is advised by Andrew Mills, at the time an adviser to the Board of Trade.
However, the Cabinet Office said, “We needed to procure contracts with extreme urgency to secure the vital supplies required to protect frontline NHS workers and the public and we make no apology for that”.