Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Leader of the Commons has compared the Government’s handling of the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE) during the Covid-19 pandemic to a response to a water leak in your house.
He said the government was in the situation of “having a leak at two in the morning” and therefore it was “inevitably expensive” when trying to buy PPE and other items. His comments were in response to a heavily critical report from the National Audit Office which criticised the way normal standards of transparency were set aside.
Under procurement regulations, tenders must be offered out to the market to ensure fair competition, that they are awarded fairly against set criteria in the tender and, once awarded, the details published within a set number of days.
The government has failed on all three of these counts for many contracts awarded during the pandemic. Of course, these are unprecedented times and rules can be waived when needed. The world has seen a demand for PPE completely out with its normal production capacity and so prices are bound to rise along with shortage of supply. This is basic economics.
What has gone wrong though is that the government has chosen to award contracts to businesses that have little or no experience in the relevant market, while choosing to ignore companies that have the capability to provide PPE. By not releasing contracts, giving no explanation as to why normal procedures have been bypassed (there will be a waiver process) and by awarding large contracts to those linked to the Conservative party, the government has opened itself to accusations of cronyism and corruption.
Rees-Mogg’s analogy does not hold true. It is more like having a water leak in your house in the middle of the night and rather than ringing a plumber, you ring someone who has done you a favour in the past, who has no experience of plumbing and offering unnecessary amounts of money for them to sort it out.
It may be that the accusations of cronyism and corruption turn out to be true. Time will tell.