Boris Johnson defends government PPE contracts during PMQs
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The former Labour spin doctor lashed out at the BBC’s coverage of the bombshell High Court ruling on Friday. The Good Law Project took legal action against the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) for its “wholesale failure” to disclose details of contracts agreed during the pandemic.
The court ruled that Matt Hancock, the health secretary, had acted unlawfully by failing to publish Government contracts within the 30-day period required by law.
Mr Campbell, who served as press secretary to former prime minister Tony Blair, said if Labour politicians had acted in such a manner the BBC would have scrambled to air a Panorama documentary on the issue within days.
He tweeted: “If this has been a Labour Government found to be in breach of the law over a live issue, it would not just have led the news, there would have been a Panorama special out by Monday.”
He also said if a Labour health secretary had failed in the same way that Mr Hancock had, it would be a “far bigger” deal on news agendas.
He said: “Think we can be sure @MattHancock breaking the law on Covid contracts would have been far bigger on the news had it been a Labour minister.”
The Government is required by law to publish a “contract award notice” within 30 days of the award of any contracts for public goods or services.
The rule applies to agreements worth more than £120,000.
At a hearing earlier this month, the Good Law Project and three MPs – Labour’s Debbie Abrahams, the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas and Liberal Democrat Layla Moran – argued there had been a “dismal” failure by the DHSC to comply with the obligation.
They also claimed the Government was breaching its own transparency policy, which requires the publication of details of public contracts worth more than £10,000.
In a ruling on Friday, Mr Justice Chamberlain said Mr Hancock had broken his legal obligation.
He 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.
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“There is also no dispute that the Secretary of State failed to publish redacted contracts in accordance with the transparency policy.”
The judge said that the obligations to publish details of such contracts “serve a vital public function and that function was no less important during a pandemic”.
He added: “The Secretary of State spent vast quantities of public money on pandemic-related procurements during 2020.
“The public were entitled see who this money was going to, what it was being spent on and how the relevant contracts were awarded.
“This was important not only so that competitors of those awarded contracts could understand whether the obligations … had been breached, but also so that oversight bodies such as the National Audit Office, as well as Parliament and the public, could scrutinise and ask questions about this expenditure.”
Mr Hancock is due to appear on the Andrew Mar Show on BBC One on Sunday to be grilled on the issue.
In a statement, a DHSC spokeswoman said the department had been “working tirelessly” to protect health and social care workers during the pandemic.
She said the heavy workload has “often meant having to award contracts at speed to secure the vital supplies required to protect NHS workers and the public.”
She 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.”
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