A mind-boggling £ 145million test and traceability contract awarded without competition to a private company with conservative ties was not legal, a prominent lawyer has claimed.
The huge bill – paid to the Big Four Deloitte accounting firm – accounts for nearly a third of the government’s total spending on consultants hired to fight the Covid pandemic.
And now the Good Law Project has taken legal action against the Department of Health and Welfare for going through the contract without a tender.
The nonprofit also criticized the government for waiting until the end of the five-month contract last month to make the deal public.
The lawsuit comes amid ongoing criticism of the government’s disastrous £ 22 billion testing and tracing system.
Jolyon Maugham QC, director of the Good Law Project, said: ‘It’s like we are setting up a whole new ministry, but instead of civil servants paid £ 40,000 a year, it is run by hundreds of private consultants for which we pay £ 40,000 a year. month.
“It is almost impossible to review contracts because the government routinely fails to release details within the legal deadlines.
“We do not believe that the award of this £ 145million contract, behind closed doors, was legal. We have no choice but to seek transparency in the courts. “
The DHSC said the law allowed the bidding process to be skipped due to the “extreme urgency” of the fight against Covid-19.
But the Good Law Project, which raises funds through crowdfunding to question the legality of certain government conduct, says that several months after the start of the pandemic, this argument no longer holds, because any demand for such services was “predictable”.
The £ 145million Deloitte contract is one of 312 Covid-related contracts for a total of £ 478.4million awarded to private consultants by the government.
And according to contracts pulled together by data firm Tussell, the bill has nearly tripled in just four months, increasing by £ 303million since mid-October.
The Good Law Project has revealed that Deloitte has been awarded 25 of those contracts, totaling £ 193.3million.
And of those, five worth £ 170.5million were awarded directly without competition.
In total, the consulting firm has landed 145 public sector contracts worth a total of £ 430million since February last year.
The staggering figures have raised questions about the appointment of his Tory counterpart James Bethell as government minister responsible for Test and Trace.
Lord Bethell, who oversaw the award of several key Covid-19 contracts to Deloitte, previously ran a lobbying firm that represented Deloitte as it won over £ 700million in government contracts under the work program by Chris Grayling for the unemployed.
Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said: “It’s not just that Covid contracts are routinely awarded to companies with ties to the Conservative Party, it’s the boldness with which it’s done.
“The way the friends and donors of conservative politicians have grown rich during this pandemic is an outrage.
“There’s also the problem that billions of pounds of contracts haven’t been made public, so we don’t even know what that money was spent on, or who got it.”
And Labor shadow cabinet minister Rachel Reeves said: “Another costly consultancy contract as vulnerable children prepare to go another semester without free school meals from this government?” Unfortunately, taxpayers will hardly be surprised.
“We need transparency on the rationale for this new multi-million pound advisory contract, assurances that this is not another page in the government’s crony catalog, and that they urgently heed Labor calls to end the use of emergency procedures.
powers necessary to control procurement.
Darren Quinton / Birmingham Live)
It emerged last month that Deloitte consultants working on Test and Trace are paid an average of £ 1,000 a day. At its peak, more than 1,000 Deloitte consultants were working on the project.
No details have been provided to the public on the government’s Contracts Finder website as to what they have been hired for under the £ 145million contract.
And only fuzzy information was provided when DHSC was pushed by the Sunday Mirror and the Good Law Project.
Healthcare bosses said the “expertise” of Deloitte consultants was being used for “the design and implementation of an agile and innovative workforce solution to harness the range of new testing technologies. “.
NurPhoto / PA Images)
They added, “This contract allowed DHSC to speed up existing lab operations, onboard new labs to increase capacity according to agreed schedules and supported increasing testing capacity in line with program goals. .
“In addition, this agreement has supported the establishment, development and operationalization of community testing.”
Lib Dem MP Layla Moran, chair of the all-party parliamentary group on the coronavirus, said: “One of the most fundamental pillars of democracy is that taxpayers can see how their money is spent. This government can no longer hide from the review.
“As private companies continue to win public contracts worth hundreds of millions of pounds behind closed doors, people’s confidence in government is at an all-time high. “
Members of Independent Sage this week dismissed the Test and Trace system as unsuitable for their purpose during their Friday briefing.
Dr Zubaida Haque called the system a ‘failure’, adding: ‘The government invested in the Test and Trace system with people who did not have expertise in the field. They completely avoided public health professionals who knew how to do testing and tracing and instead turned to private companies who had no expertise. “
And Professor Gabriel Scally, chair of the Epidemiology and Public Health section at the Royal Society of Medicine, called the “non-functional test and trace contracts” a “scandal.”
A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs said: “We do not comment on legal proceedings or specific contractual agreements.
“As part of our response to this global pandemic, we have drawn on the enormous expertise and resources of a number of public and private sector partners.
“The government has made it clear from the start that governments need to create value for taxpayers and exercise sound business judgment. Due diligence is performed on all government contracts and we take these checks very seriously. “
Deloitte declined to comment, but said its consultants helped create a system that can test 800,000 people per day.