A judge has ruled that the Tories awarding a contract to their mates was “unlawful”. This was thanks to the Good Law Project. People are rightly heralding this as a success, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to government corruption.
Friends in convenient places
As PA reported, a high court judge has ruled that a government decision to award a contract to a company whose bosses were friends of adviser Dominic Cummings was unlawful.
Campaigners took legal action against the Cabinet Office over the decision to pay £560,000 of taxpayers’ money to market research firm Public First. It followed the start of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic in March 2020. They also questioned the involvement of Cummings. Lawyers working for the Good Law Project said Cummings, Boris Johnson’s then-chief adviser, wanted focus group and communications support services work to be given to a company whose bosses were his friends. Ministers, and Cummings – who left Downing Street late in 2020 – disputed the Good Law Project’s claim.
“Apparent” and “unlawful” bias
PA reported that justice O’Farrell said in a ruling on Wednesday 9 June:
The claimant is entitled to a declaration that the decision of 5 June 2020 to award the contract to Public First gave rise to apparent bias and was unlawful.
Meanwhile, Good Law Project director Jo Maugham said:
This is not government for the public good – it is government for the good of friends of the Conservative Party.
We just don’t understand how the Prime Minister can run a Cabinet that acts without proper regard for the law or value for public money.
Government has claimed there was no favouritism in the awarding of contracts. But the High Court has held an informed observer would conclude otherwise.
But it wasn’t just Cummings involved in this law-breaking.
Cummings and Gove implicated
Maugham tweeted that:
As everyone in Government scrambles to pin the blame on the hapless Dominic Cummings, it is worth looking at these emails (released during the hearing). They are dated July 2020 but they show *Michael Gove* and *Number 10* wanted Public First to be awarded contracts. pic.twitter.com/3PN8nBBUkK
— Jo Maugham (@JolyonMaugham) June 9, 2021
As PA reported, a Good Law Project spokesperson said cabinet office minister Michael Gove was also in the frame. She said:
Gove had tried to argue that only Public First could carry out the contracted work and everyone was acting under pressure.
However, the High Court found that version of events ‘does not stand up to scrutiny’ and ‘the time constraints… did not exonerate the defendant from conducting the procurement so as to demonstrate a fair and impartial process of selection’.
The truth, it said, is the Cabinet Office didn’t even consider whether to give the contract to anyone else.
Emails between civil servants revealed in the course of Good Law Project’s legal action revealed both Michael Gove and No 10 wanted contracts to be awarded to Public First.
First Hancock, now Gove
Nor is this the first time the Good Law Project has been legally successful in getting a judge to rule Tory contracts have been unlawful.
As Maugham tweeted:
We have now two concluded judicial reviews of pandemic procurement. Each established that a Cabinet Minister – respectively, Matt Hancock and Michael Gove – acted unlawfully. We have a slate of approximately a dozen further judicial reviews to come.
After we established [Matt Hancock] had broken the law, we wrote inviting him to work with us to improve Government procurement rather than wasting public money defending the indefensible. He didn’t have the courtesy to respond. We now repeat our invitation.
Public First. The irony’s in the name
A spokesperson for Public First told PA that:
We’re deeply proud of the work we did in the early stages of the pandemic, which helped save lives.
The judge rejected most of the Good Law Project’s claims, not finding actual bias in the awarding of this work, nor any problems with the pace or scale of the award.
Rather, the judge found that weak internal processes gave rise to the appearance of bias. The judge made no criticism whatsoever of Public First anywhere in the judgment.
But Public First being chummy with the Tories is hardly new.
A history of chumminess
As The Canary‘s Tom Coburg previously reported:
Public First, headed by James Frayne and Rachel Wolf (who helped write the 2019 Tory manifesto), was given £956k for “advice on Covid-19 and reorganising the health and care system”. It was previously awarded £840k to conduct research on public opinion regarding government policies and £116k to examine how the government can better learn from the coronavirus pandemic. Frayne worked with Cummings at the Department for Education.
Moreover, as PA reported, the Good Law Project’s lawyer told the court that Frayne and Wolf have “long-standing personal relationships” with both Cummings and Gove.
So, the legal victory is to be welcomed. But the bigger picture is corruption on an industrial scale.
Industrial scale corruption
As Byline Times reported, since the pandemic started:
15 individuals with strong connections to the Conservative Party, parliamentarians or Government representatives have been linked to companies awarded more than £2 billion in COVID-related contracts
Overall, Byline Times said that the total figure for all contracts given to the Tory’s mates was over £3bn. So, the £560,000 Public First contract represents just 0.02% of this total figure. The scale of the corruption is breathtaking. And while the Good Law Project’s victory is a step in the right direction, it by no means addresses the fundamental abuse of power and privilege that has defined the Tory government’s response to the pandemic.
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