Secretary for health and social care Matt Hancock has defended what he called the “extraordinary broad range of companies” the government has employed during the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.
The health secretary said that the government “had to” work with the private sector in its work tackling the virus.
He likened the Covid-19 testing programme to “building something that’s basically about the same size of Tesco in six months”.
The comments come after he was probed about a Sunday Times report which said that the Government had awarded £1.5 billion to companies linked to the Conservative party during the pandemic. Describing the government’s response as a “Covid Chumocracy” it claimed that:
friends of the Conservatives have played a central role in responding to the pandemic, securing high-profile positions and contracts along the way.
But Hancock suggested the story was not a “fair or accurate reflection” of the awarding of the contracts.
He told Times Radio:
We’ve brought in an extraordinary broad range of companies and many of them who haven’t been working with Government before because we haven’t had a pandemic of this scale before.
So think about the testing capacity. It’s nothing to do with any political links, it’s all about building a massive testing capacity in this country that we haven’t had in the past.
And the need to do that at pace and build this half a million testing capacity that we have today. We built that almost from scratch.
So the scale of the operation – building something that’s basically about the same size of Tesco in six months – has been incredible. So we absolutely have had to work with the private sector to have this happen.
“We’ve been doing that as quickly and as effectively as we possibly could in what were very, very challenging circumstances.
‘Putting aside politics’
“In this pandemic we’ve completely put aside politics, it’s all about what can we do to keep people safe and get the country back on its feet.”
Hancock added: “We’ve worked with an unbelievable range of companies.
“We’ve brought in people from all across the country to help with this national effort – some of them I knew before, some of them I didn’t.
“That’s the nature of what happens when you bring in a huge range of people to help with what has been a massive challenge.
“And if you note down all the ones where there were previous contacts and don’t note down all the ones where there weren’t then of course you can give that sort of impression but it’s not a fair or accurate reflection of what went on.”
Lack of transparency?
Questions remain around the lack of transparency in awarding contracts. The Times article further noted that:
In normal times, ministers must advertise contracts for privately provided services so that any company has a chance of securing the work. A person’s connections are not supposed to help.
The government is also legally required to publish details of awarded contracts within 30 days, so the public knows how its money is being spent.
During the pandemic, neither has happened…According to Tussell, a data provider on official spending, Whitehall departments have taken an average of 72 days to publicise who has received money, meaning public debate has often moved on before decisions can be scrutinised.
You can read more on the government’s Test and Trace system here.
Additional information via The Press Association
We need your help ...
The coronavirus pandemic is changing our world, fast. And we will do all we can to keep bringing you news and analysis throughout. But we are worried about maintaining enough income to pay our staff and minimal overheads.
Now, more than ever, we need a vibrant, independent media that holds the government to account and calls it out when it puts vested economic interests above human lives. We need a media that shows solidarity with the people most affected by the crisis – and one that can help to build a world based on collaboration and compassion.
We have been fighting against an establishment that is trying to shut us down. And like most independent media, we don’t have the deep pockets of investors to call on to bail us out.
Can you help by chipping in a few pounds each month?