Matt Hancock is being urged to deal with “cronyism” in the government after a High Court ruling which said it had acted unlawfully in failing to publish billions of pounds worth of COVID-19 contracts.
On Friday, a high court judge said the health secretary had “failed to publish redacted contracts in accordance with the transparency policy”, triggering opposition calls for more accountability.
Shadow Cabinet Office minister Rachel Reeves has written to Mr Hancock to ask him to commit to “publishing all outstanding contracts, winding down emergency procurement powers and reintroducing tendering”.
She said: “Matt Hancock cannot simply brush off this court ruling. He must commit to cleaning up the cronyism and waste that has marred government contracting during the pandemic.
“We have tried to get answers about who is getting VIP treatment but the Conservatives are refusing to tell us. Now we know the health secretary acted unlawfully, these are no longer questions he can ignore.
“The government must publish the outstanding contracts and details of the VIP lane as a first step to restoring public confidence.”
Legal action was taken against the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) by the Good Law Project, over what it called a “wholesale failure” to reveal details of the deals it struck during the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
By law, the government is required to publish a “contract award notice” within 30 days of a deal being agreed for goods or services worth more than £120,000.
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Along with the Good Law Project, Labour’s Debbie Abrahams, the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas, and the Liberal Democrat’s Layla Moran argued that the there had been a “dismal failure” by the DHSC to comply with the legislation.
In a ruling on Friday, Mr Justice Chamberlain 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.
“There is also no dispute that the Secretary of State failed to publish redacted contracts in accordance with the transparency policy.”
He added that the obligations to publish details of contracts “serve a vital public function and that function was no less important during a pandemic”.