The Ministerial Interests Bill will help combat rife Tory cronyism in Westminster
The UK government must take steps to improve transparency in its decision-making, writes Owen Thompson MP | PA Images
Billions of pounds in public contracts have been handed out to friends and associates of the Tory Party with little to no transparency or competition.
Today, I will be presenting a bill to parliament which aims to tackle the growing culture of secrecy and ‘cronyism’ at the heart of the Tory government. The Ministerial Interests (Emergency Powers) Bill would force government Ministers to answer questions about any personal, political or financial connections they may have to a company that is awarded a government contract.
It is appalling that while in-work poverty increases, billions of pounds in public contracts have been handed out like sweeties to friends and associates of the Tories with little to no transparency.
Companies and individuals with questionable experience, but with unquestionable links to power, have been fast-tracked towards big money deals to supply life-saving equipment for our healthcare professionals. More than ten billion worth of contracts were awarded without competition by the end of last July alone, a staggering amount of which has been wasted.
I understand the need for the UK government to act swiftly during a global health pandemic, but it is reckless to award vital contracts to people and companies without the relevant experience.
There is nothing to fear from this bill if there is nothing to hide
A National Audit Office report into procurement during the coronavirus crisis confirmed the existence of a ‘high priority lane’ for PPE leads from government officials, ministers’ offices, MPs and members of the House of lords amongst others. This allowed almost 500 suppliers with links to politicians or senior officials to pitch directly for work. If your name was on the fast track, you had a one in ten chance of success, compared to one in a hundred for others.
We know the government had offers from thousands of suppliers to provide PPE for the NHS - many of whom had a wealth of experience in the field – so it is bizarre that a vermin control company with cash assets of just £19,000 was awarded a £108million contract to provide gowns and face masks to the NHS, many of which were recalled.
The UK government also has questions to answer over why P14 Medical, a small loss-making firm run by a Conservative councillor, received a £156million contract to import PPE from China without any competition.
The contracts awarded to Public First - run by an ally of Michael Gove and Dominic Cummings – and Matt Hancock’s former neighbour who runs a local pub also raise eyebrows.
Some of the contracts may well have been given to the best people for the job, but how can we know? It is only through the sterling efforts of investigative journalists and organisations like the Good Law Project that much of these issues have come to light at all. The UK government must take steps to improve transparency in its decision-making.
My Bill, if passed, will help to ensure that the right people and companies get the jobs and help to combat the Tory ‘cronyism’ that is rife in Westminster. It will give Ministers the chance to be public and upfront about why the contract is being given to an old school chum, their local pub landlord, a colleague’s wife or Tory donor. If they are the best person for the job, it will be clear from their credentials, skills and their record. There is nothing to fear from this bill if there is nothing to hide.
I would urge the UK government and MPs from all parties to back my bill and enshrine this simple measure into law. If the Tory government have nothing to hide they will back my bill and enshrine in law this simple measure. Those of us asking questions are not going to go away.
Owen Thompson is the Scottish National Party MP for Midlothian.