11 September 2020 — Good Law Project
Boris Johnson announced on Wednesday plans for an enormous expansion of the national coronavirus testing programme, named “Operation Moonshot”, and estimated to cost “over £100bn” to deliver.
We support the need for increased testing capabilities. But the announcement has been met with widespread scepticism (“more like Apollo 13” than Apollo 11, said one leading public health expert) and it raises, once again, huge questions about the procurement processes being adopted in the course of the pandemic.
Leaked documents say delivering “around 6 million tests a day” would cost over £100bn and that “letters of comfort are already in place with companies to reach 3 million tests per day”.
Despite these staggering sums of money, there is no evidence that Government has followed any open or competitive tendering process for these contracts. There is no clarity on what contracts have been awarded or to whom (though Serco and G4S are reported to be involved), how these companies secured these roles, or how they ensured that the contract awards were made lawfully.
We’ve seen what happens when Government abandons rigorous procurement processes: £12 million on a contract tracing app that never saw the light of day; £200 million on a centralised test and trace system that failed to reach almost half of infected people’s contacts; over £150 million on masks that will never be used in the NHS.
And so, yesterday, we and EveryDoctor wrote to Government to ask for details of Operation Moonshot and, specifically, for confirmation on whether these vast amounts have been, or will be, spent using the emergency procurement procedures so far heavily relied upon by Government. You can read the letter here. Our view is that the use of those emergency procedures would be, in all likelihood, unlawful.
The fact that much of this important information has only become available through the leaking of official documents highlights another huge issue: we cannot rely on Government to tell us what we need to know. They are routinely failing to publish details of contracts within the required 30 days. It is impossible to tell just how many other stories of waste or incompetence – or worse – remain to be disclosed.
We are working with a group of cross-party MPs to challenge Government’s persistent and unlawful failure to disclose details of COVID-related contracts. If you would like to support this legal action, you can do so here: https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/fight-for-transparency/
£100bn is – as befits a project with this name – a truly astronomical sum: two-thirds of what Government spends each year on the NHS; millions more than is spent in a year on education; twice as much as the annual defence budget. It is vital that we can – and do – hold Government to account.
Thank you for your support.
Jo Maugham, QC