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Government Outsourcing Partners Connected To Westminster Lobbyists

(Alamy)

3 min read

The majority of private companies that have been awarded lucrative government contracts are connected to PR firms that have engaged with lobbying Westminster, according to a new analysis by PoliticsHome.

Listings on the PRCA Public Affairs Board show that around 70 per cent of the government’s biggest private outsourcing partners hire PR firms, many of which specialise in lobbying Westminster. 

The listings detail major PR and lobbying firms and their biggest paying clients. 27 of the 39 Strategic Suppliers – the government’s biggest outsourcing partners – were listed at least once on the list.

Around a third of UK government spending goes on the procurement of goods and services, with the Strategic Suppliers alone netting just under a tenth of all public sector spending, according to procurement data firm Tussell. Five of the firms had direct public sector revenue of £1bn or more in the 2022/2023 financial year.

But concerns have been raised about the quality of the public services being provided, as these firms have netted over £500m in fines and penalties, in some cases for defrauding Whitehall, without losing their Strategic Supplier status. The House magazine previously reported on the serious flaws in public procurement, including that one in five private contracts were failing to meet basic targets set for them by the government. 

PoliticsHome’s new analysis also found 15 of the strategic suppliers were listed as paying for the services of more than one different lobbying or PR firm. Many of the firms on the PRCA register boast of their ability to engage with stakeholders in Westminster and their expertise in “government relations”.

"These findings highlight the risk that outsourcing decisions may not always be based on merit and the best available evidence,” said George Havenhand, a senior legal researcher for Spotlight on Corruption.

“Unequal access to government results in those with privileged relationships or the deepest pockets exerting the most influence. This can skew public contracts and decision-making away from the public interest and towards vested interests, with sometimes disastrous consequences for the taxpayer. 

“The government needs to level the playing field to ensure that outsourcing serves the public and not just those with the minister’s ear.”

The influential Commons Public Accounts Committee has issued a scathing review of government procurement practice, which it says was not providing value for money for taxpayers. Despite the government spending £259bn on the procurement of goods and services in 2021-2022, the committee found that there was “no evidence that Government consistently uses purchasing power to create new businesses, jobs and skills, or to tackle climate change and reduce waste”.

It added that “poor quality and incomplete contract data prevents Government evaluating competitive trends in markets” and stressed that the government could be saving an estimated £7.7bn a year if it improved competition among outsourcing suppliers.

“The Cabinet Office needs to act swiftly to dispel any continuing lack of transparency around publicly funded contracts, so that taxpayers are able to see clearly how their money is being spent and not find this hard to discover,” PAC chair Meg Hillier said in comments accompanying the report. 

A government spokesperson stressed that all contracts were awarded with “competitive tendering and relevant due diligence” and that there are “strict rules around lobbying, including the requirement for companies to make clear whose interests they are representing when they engage with the government”.

They added that they were “committed to strengthening transparency around meetings with lobbyists”.

 

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