The UK Government has been accused of handing COVID-19 contracts to private companies with intimate ties to the Conservative Party which resulted in “avoidable deaths”.
House of Lords member and Accounting Professor Prem Sikka told Eat News that the most obvious explanation is that the contracts went to “friends in high places” instead of those most qualified.
In November, it was revealed that £17 billion had been awarded to firms with close ties to politicians and a further £4.4 billion in unaccounted-for spending over the pandemic, sparking concerns over transparency and cronyism.
The Good Law Project, an organisation established to protect the public interest, called on the Government to publish the details of the contracts so the data can be appropriately scrutinised.
Joining the fight for Government transparency, Sikka said: “A lot of people have died unnecessarily. There were avoidable deaths as a result of the Government’s mismanagement of COVID.
“It is in the public interest that somebody takes action against the Government and forces it to explain.”
Whether it be the firm that gave £400,000 to the Conservative campaign winning a £93.8 million Government PPE deal or the other Conservative-donor owned firm that was handed two contracts worth £81.8 million – the emerging pattern has been questioned by Sikka in Parliament.
Lucrative contracts were awarded to accounting firms PwC, KPMG, Deloitte, E&Y, Serco and G4s, despite each firm being involved in strings of financial scandals over the years.
“After a 100 years of doing audits, these firms still can’t deliver honest and robust audits, therefore, what evidence does the Government have to show that these firms actually have any experience of dealing with viruses and managing test trace and related facilities,” Sikka said.
“There are many other big firms who have the capacity. So, the only obvious answer is friends in high places.
“Ultimately, it’s people’s money which is being spent, so people are entitled to know how it is being spent and what they got for it.”
The Government’s poor handling of contracts has had an “incredibly negative effect” on Britain’s battle with COVID-19, Sikka said.
Instead of supporting contracts through the National Health Service (NHS), the Government offered COVID contracts to private firms with little to no medical or virus experience.
“PPE is not just a COVID thing, they need it all the time. They know how to get it, what quality they want. And then we are discovering a lot of PPE supplied wasn’t up to the benchmark,” Sikka explained.
The Government got large accounting firms to run PPE and test and trace services, but due to their lack of experience, much of the PPE was unusable and there has been a series of failures within the test and trace system.
“These organisations have no experience doing these things and even worse they have a dubious record.”
“One day we will have a Parliamentary enquiry, though what we really should have is an independent public enquiry. So that all those people that didn’t get proper PPE working in hospitals, people who’ve been let down by test and trace and other aspects of COVID management can then come and give evidence. Otherwise, these enquiries only talk to the good and the great and the ordinary people get left out.”
The Government attempted to evade criticism by ignoring its legal responsibilities to the Transparency Policy and avoiding media scrutiny.
Under the Transparency Policy, the UK Government is obligated to disclose the details of contracts within 30 days of them being awarded.
Sikka explained, “All governments have an issue with [transparency] up to a point because they would like to conceal embarrassing things. But this Government, in particular, seems to have disdain for rules.”
“They have contempt for judges, they have contempt for some journalists and some media outlets.
“This Government seems to have a particular problem and they don’t seem to like scrutiny,” Sikka added.
Sikka has attempted to ensure that the Government’s issues with transparency and cronyism are visible, but Conservative ministers have avoided his questions in Parliament.
“They’re basically not answering the questions, but that pressure won’t go away because it will build up.
“All they have to do is make [the data] publicly available and it will cost them very little. But the political desire is not there.”
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