Matt Hancock acted unlawfully over pandemic procurement contracts - what happens now?

Monday, 22nd February 2021, 11:18 am
Updated Monday, 22nd February 2021, 12:29 pm
Matt Hancock acted unlawfully over pandemic procurement contracts - what happens now? (Photo by Molly Darlington - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Health Secretary Matt Hancock acted unlawfully when his department failed to publish details of contracts signed during the pandemic, despite being required to do so.

A court ruled that Hancock had “breached his legal obligation” to publish details of all contracts within 30 days of them being signed.

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The ruling comes after a number of reports about firms with links to government receiving lucrative contracts. Campaigners have pointed to some firms which received contracts to supply millions of pounds worth of vital PPE which was not up to the required standards and may go to waste.

Campaign group The Good Law Project brought the legal challenge against the Health Secretary, whose department has been involved with the bulk of Covid-related procurement.

Hancock ‘breached legal obligation’

The law requires the Government to publish details of all contracts worth more than £120,000 within 30 days of the contracts being awarded. The Government also has a transparency policy of its own, which requires publication of details of public contracts worth more than £10,0000.

In a judgement, Mr Justice Chamberlain said: "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.

"There is also no dispute that the secretary of state failed to publish redacted contracts in accordance with the transparency policy."

He added: "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."

‘Cronyism and waste’

The Labour Party has described the Government’s procurement during the pandemic as being “plagued by a lack of transparency, cronyism and waste”, although Keir Starmer stopped short of calling for Matt Hancock to resign.

Speaking to Sky News, Mr Starmer said: “I don’t want to call for him to resign. I do think he is wrong about the contracts - there have been problems with the contracts, on transparency, on who the contracts have gone to.”

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said that the Government has been “working tirelessly” which has “often meant having to award contracts at speed”.

A spokeswoman added: "We fully recognise the importance of transparency in the award of public contracts and continue to publish information about contracts awarded as soon as possible."