At the Public Accounts Committee I’ve been pressing for answers on some of the massive contracts the UK Government gave out for covid related work, often without any kind of competitive bidding. A few weeks ago I asked about a £200 million contract to a company that had only been set up a few weeks before. The company bought 25 million sterile gowns and sold them to the Government for more than double the price, making a £76 million profit. Then the Government discovered none of the gowns was fit for use. It later emerged that the Tory Baroness who had nominated the company through the “VIP lane” system had financial links to the company.
Last week the spotlight fell on over £700 million worth of contracts to a company for lab testing of PCR covid tests. Again there was no competition for most of these contracts and there were no proper records of negotiations between the company and government ministers or civil servants. In the previous ten years the company had donated £140,000 to the Tory Party and another £20,000 to a referendum campaign the Tories had supported. Records also show that in the year or so before Department of Health awarded these contracts to the company that sponsors the Grand National, the Health Secretary had received at least £35,000 in donations from leading figures in UK horse racing.
It's quite possible that the civil service took all the right steps to make sure none of this had any improper influence on any of the contracts but we’ll never know, because of the poor standard of compliance with proper procedures.
It’s obvious from my email inbox that the cost of living crisis is getting worse by the day. The UK government refuses to admit that their reckless hard Brexit has been largely responsible for this. Even allowing for the fact that covid and Brexit were going to hurt the economy there were political choices the government could have made so that the burden didn’t fall on the people least able to cope. Instead they’ve increased National Insurance (which hits workers but protects wealthy investors), cut benefits and done next to nothing about soaring food and fuel prices. One minister suggested everybody should just work longer hours, another Tory MP claimed people who go to foodbanks are not poor, they just can’t cook. This kind of offensive nonsense shows just how out of touch they are. Meanwhile, there are more billionaires in Britain than ever before and the UK’s richest people saw their fortunes increase by nearly 10%. The gap between the rich and the poor is widening every day. That’s not an accident, it’s a deliberate choice of the British government.