Today in a Westminster Hall debate on the National Audit Office’s report on the Government’s PPE procurement process, Munira called on the Government to provide more transparency.
The NAO report, Investigation in Government Procurement during the Covid-19 Pandemic, highlighted a lack of transparency and adequate documentation around some of the contracts the Government awarded to deliver PPE.
Concerningly, some of these contracts were awarded after work had already begun.
Munira’s full speech:
“The NAO report raises serious questions that Government must address, both in terms of competency and cronyism. We’ve heard some of the numbers cited in the NAO report today from other members, and they are staggering.
Clearly, in the midst of a national – indeed an international – health emergency, where every country in the world was scrambling for supplies, standard procurement rules and processes needed to be relaxed. And clearly, in such a competitive market, prices would sky-rocket and some mistakes would be made.
However, the headless chicken approach this government has pursued led to the procurement of millions of products that were not fit for purpose, or simply never materialised. For instance, £364 million on full-body ‘coveralls’ with 432,000 of these items delivered and used. This amounts to £840 per bodysuit. Completely unacceptable.
We now know from the NAO report that companies were placed on the VIP list, and they were ten times more likely to win contracts in the early months of the pandemic. There were no criteria for referrals to the fast-track lane, and the source of the referral was not always recorded. So I hope the Minister will outline clearly what criteria were used to assess any offers received from MPs, peers and Ministers? What processes were followed? What due diligence was undertaken on their credibility and suitability.
As we’ve heard already, many companies with no prior experience were awarded contracts and others with good experience were turned down. The lack of transparency, the lack of risk management, the lack of a paper trail in relation to billions of pounds of private funds absolutely stinks.
Integrity, objectivity and accountability are three of the seven Nolan principles of public life. These have been tested to destruction on numerous occasions, not least in the context of the whopping procurement decisions detailed in this report.
While NHS staff were wrapping themselves in bin bags and dying in the line of duty, and schoolchildren were making DIY PPE, millions of pounds of public money were being siphoned off to inexperienced companies, many with links to the Conservative party. Ministers must now commit to a thorough independent inquiry at the earliest possible opportunity, as the Liberal Democrats have been calling for, and we should establish a cross-party committee to examine all contracts awarded for the remainder of the pandemic, not least in the rollout of the vaccines.”