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Statement on UK public spending watchdog report on COVID-19 procurement

The latest report by the National Audit Office, released today, investigates government procurement during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Head of the National Audit Office concluded: “While we recognise that these were exceptional circumstances, it remains essential that decisions are properly documented and made transparent if government is to maintain public trust that taxpayers’ money is being spent appropriately and fairly. The evidence set out in our report shows that these standards of transparency and documentation were not consistently met in the first phase of the pandemic.”

Gavin Hayman, Executive Director of the Open Contracting Partnership, comments:

“Public procurement was on the frontline of the pandemic response in the UK. It is clear that it struggled with poor coordination and late reporting. The system isn’t working. We need root and branch reforms fit for the 21st Century.

Nothing matters more than having reliable and timely information about who buys what, at what price, and from whom, to cope with the supply shock from the pandemic. It just can’t be that information on £4 billion worth of contracts is still not published after 100 days.  

The public needs to know whether protective equipment gets delivered and if it’s the right quality. Any suspicion of fraud and profiteering need to be investigated, conflicts of interest disclosed and investigated. 

We shouldn’t be relying on expensive and opaque emergency contracts after several months.

This is not rocket science. In Ukraine, emergency contracts have to be published in a single day so why should we have to wait over 100 times longer in the UK?

Open data and transparency need to be put at the heart of the response and the plans to build back better.

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