After breaching transparency guidelines, the UK government commits to publishing £248 million worth of missing COVID-19 contracts.

B ack in March 2021, former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, told Parliament that details of all COVID contracts were now “on the record”. A month later, Cabinet Minister Julia Lopez, claimed “all historical COVID-related contracts” had been published.

Neither statement was true.

Last month, we took the first formal step in legal proceedings against the Cabinet Office for its three-year failure to publish the 29 contracts awarded to suppliers as part of the Government’s controversial ‘Ventilator Challenge’ programme.

In total, £277m was spent by the Cabinet Office procuring ventilators during the pandemic, with an eye-watering £143m going to waste.

The Government has now admitted it breached its own transparency policy in what it calls a “regrettable oversight.” And it has committed to publishing the missing contracts by 28 February 2023.

You can read the full response to our Pre-Action Protocol letter here.

In its response to us, the Cabinet Office said:

“Our client is currently reviewing its compliance with the Transparency Policy in relation to the Contracts. As a result of this ongoing review, it has become apparent that information was not published in accordance with the Transparency Policy, which our client notes is a regrettable oversight. Consequently, our client will publish any outstanding information (subject to any redactions/exemptions that may apply) by 28 February 2023.”

To date, only a limited amount of data has been published by the Cabinet Office regarding the 29 missing contracts. We know two large orders were placed by the Department in March 2020 – the first valued at £193m and split between 14 different suppliers, followed by a further order of £51m, again split amongst 14 suppliers. A subsequent, smaller order of £3m was also made by the Cabinet Office in the same month.

Penlon Ltd landed the largest contract, valued at £136m, to deliver 11,700 ventilators.

Additionally, a £6m contract was awarded to TTP Plc, working in partnership with Dyson. The Dyson deal embroiled Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak in a lobbying row after Johnson personally assured Sir James that Dyson employees wouldn’t pay extra tax if they came to the UK to make ventilators.

Today’s victory is another win for transparency.

We will closely monitor the Cabinet Office’s response and scrutinise all of the contracts once they have been published, ensuring each one is consistent with the Government’s legal obligations.

PMP Magazine

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Text: This piece was originally published in Good Law Project and re-published in PMP Magazine on 14 February 2023, with the author’s consent. | The author writes in a personal capacity.
Cover: Flickr/Number 10. - Boris Johnson. (Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.)

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