U.K. Government Loses Case on Covid-19 Contract Disclosure
(Bloomberg) -- The U.K. failed to properly disclose details of coronavirus-related contracts, a court ruled in a lawsuit filed by three members of parliament.
Health Minister Matt Hancock failed to comply with government transparency policies, Judge Martin Chamberlain said in a ruling Friday. The group that filed the lawsuit said that if the government “continues to fail to publish contract award notices within 30 days it is doing so in full knowledge it is breaching the law.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has faced multiple lawsuits over his administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, from the availability of medical equipment to student exam results. Critics in Friday’s case asked the court to review contracts that were hurriedly awarded to companies during the early days of the outbreak.
Hancock “spent vast quantities of public money on pandemic-related procurements during 2020,” Chamberlain said. “The public were entitled to see who this money was going to, what it was being spent on and how the relevant contracts were awarded.”
The Health Ministry didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment on the ruling. A spokesperson told the Guardian newspaper that the contracts were awarded at speed during the pandemic for protective equipment and that the government recognizes the need for transparency.
Jolyon Maugham, a frequent government critic who backed the lawsuit, said that the public is “plainly entitled to know how and with whom and at what prices government spends public money.”
“I’d rather that there was no need for organizations like ours to have to sue Government to get it to come clean,” Maugham, the head of the Good Law Project, said in a statement.
After the ruling, The Good Law Project urged Hancock to publish outstanding contracts and names of companies that went through a “VIP lane” to be awarded buying decisions on Covid supplies.
“This indictment of government secrecy should spell the end of the culture of cronyism which has swallowed billions of pounds of public money during Covid,” said Caroline Lucas, a Green Party Member of Parliament. “If ministers had nothing to hide, they should have disclosed the relevant information. I expect them now to do so with all existing and future contracts.”
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