Watchdog slams UK over secrecy in virus equipment contracts

Britain’s public spending watchdog says the government spent billions without proper transparency in a scramble to secure protective equipment early in the coronavirus outbreak

The National Audit Office said in a report that companies with links to politicians were fast-tracked and had more chances of getting a coronavirus contract than other applicants.

The auditor said in a sample of cases it studied, “departments failed to document key decisions, such as why they chose a particular supplier or used emergency procurement, and failed to document their consideration of risks, including how they had identified and managed any potential conflicts of interest.”

It said in some cases documents to support decisions were missing, or contracts were awarded after the work had already been done. In more than half the cases, contracts had not been published by Nov. 10.

Opposition Labour Party lawmaker Meg Hillier, who heads Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee, said the government had “ripped up the rules and ridden roughshod over the taxpayer.”

Business Secretary Alok Sharma defended the government, saying it had acted with urgency and under “huge pressure.”

“We had to do an enormous amount of work very fast to secure PPE and that’s what we did, and I’m not going to apologize for the fact that quite rightly we made that effort,” he told the BBC.

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