Friday 19 February 2021 12:21 pm

Government 'acted unlawfully' by failing to disclose Covid contract details, court rules

The High Court has ruled that the government acted unlawfully by failing to disclosed details of its Covid contracts.

“The Secretary of State acted unlawfully by failing to comply with the Transparency Policy” Judge Chamberlain concluded in his judgment this afternoon.

He added “there is now no dispute that, in a substantial number of cases, the Secretary of State breached his legal obligation to publish Contract Award Notices within 30 days of the award of contracts.”

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The legal challenge was brought by the Good Law Project and three MPs – Debbie Abrahams, Caroline Lucas and Layla Moran – after the Department of Health failed to disclose information on pandemic-related procurements last year.

The government has been accused of handing out contracts to close contacts of government ministers and failing to advertise the huge tenders.

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“The Secretary of State spent vast quantities of public money on pandemic-related procurements during 2020. The public were entitled to see who this money was going to, what it was being spent on and how the relevant contracts were awarded,” Judge Chamberlain said.

“This was important not only so that competitors of those awarded contracts could understand whether the obligations owed to them under the PCR 2015 had been breached, but also so that oversight bodies such as the NAO, as well as Parliament and the public, could scrutinise and ask questions about this expenditure.”

The Prime Minister’s former aide Dominic Cummings was recently accused of awarding a contract to Public First, a company owned and run by two of his associates. The research firm was paid over half a million to research the public’s understanding of the coronavirus.

““I’d rather that there was no need for organisations like ours to have to sue Government to get it to come clean. The public is plainly entitled to know how and with whom and at what prices Government spends public money,” Jolyon Maugham QC, director of the Good Law Project said.

“Anything else is a recipe for corruption. But until Government understands and respects that there is a genuine public interest in how they are awarding Covid contracts, including through the VIP lane, we have little choice.”