Calls for an inquiry into the awarding of Covid contracts
It may be that in times of absolute crisis, many consider that the ends can somehow justify the means, but for others there is increasing concern that the issue of government “cronyism” in awarding Covid-19 contracts has failed to provoke public and even mainstream media outrage. Health Secretary Matt Hancock refused to apologise after a High Court judge ruled he had acted unlawfully in failing to publish billions of pounds’ worth of contracts “in accordance with the transparency policy.”
In a TV interview with Andrew Marr, Hancock, when asked if he would like to say sorry, sidestepped the question, saying instead that the issue was merely a technical one over the lateness of the publication of contracts. The awarding of lucrative contracts to friends and associates has been an issue since early in the pandemic, with repeated claims that companies with close government contacts were far more likely to land lucrative deals.
An ex-neighbour of Hancock’s, Alex Bourne, was given a £30 million contract producing Covid vials, despite having no experience in the field, after initially offering his services in a personal WhatsApp message to the health secretary. Other individuals with connections to Hancock have also received Covid-linked contracts, including a family friend who was awarded a £14.4 million deal for the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE).
But these are far from the only examples of those knowing, or supporting, the right people to getting the pandemic job. A company founded by Conservative Party donor, Sir Philip Hulme, has received more than £200 million worth of government contracts. Sir Philip remains a non-executive director and shareholder of the company, Computacenter. And Pickerings Hire Limited, a company owned by John Stuart Bloor and Bloor Holdings Limited, is another firm to receive a multi-million pound contract. Mr Bloor has donated more than £2.5 million to the Conservative Party since 2007.
The extensive list of personal connections and lucrative deals goes on, suggesting at the very least, a strong element of “cronyism,” or “chumocracy,” as it has also been termed. But opposition scrutiny remains limited, with even Labour leader Keir Starmer declining to call for the health secretary’s resignation following the High Court ruling. And calls for an inquiry have faded as the Government simply sits tight and carries on. But is that what the great British public actually wants?
What our surveys show
Regardless of what the majority of the mainstream press is saying, or not saying, it is clear from our survey that as far as the majority of the public is concerned, the Government’s policy of awarding fast-tracked PPE and other Covid-related contracts during the pandemic, has involved an element of corruption. Almost three-quarters, a startling 74%, answered a straight “Yes” to our first question, with just 18% saying “No” and only 8% saying they “Don’t know”. And those figures showed a high level of consistency across the age range groupings.
An almost equally high majority, 71%, believe there has been inadequate press coverage on the issue, with 24% saying that coverage has been sufficient, and just 5% answering that they don’t know. Interestingly, and despite the billions spent, there has been a dearth of surveys by the major polling companies on whether the public thinks corruption has been involved in the awarding of contracts.
Perhaps unsurprising then, that in our survey the percentage in favour of a public, independent inquiry into the matter was also high, at 61%, with 16% against the idea and quite a high number, 23%, said they don’t know.