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Matt Hancock defends lack of transparency over Covid-19 contracts

Matt Hancock was in an unapologetic mood on the Andrew Marr Show

Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, has defended not disclosing key details of Covid-19 contracts to the public despite a court ruling he acted unlawfully.

The legal dispute centers on the deals the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) struck during the pandemic.

Cumulatively these deals were worth hundreds of millions of pounds and they were signed under conditions of little to no transparency.

The lack of transparency prompted the campaign group the Good Law Project and three MPs – the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas, Labor’s Debbie Abrahams and the Liberal Democrat’s Layla Moran – to take legal action against the DHSC over its “wholesale failure” to disclose details of the contracts.

The complainants argued the government is obliged by law to publish a “contract award notice” within 30 days of the awarding any contracts for public goods or services worth more than £120,000.

The judge, Justice Martin Chamberlain, concurred with the complainants’ position by issuing the following ruling: "There is now no dispute that, in a substantial number of cases, the Secretary of State breached his legal obligation to publish contract award notices within 30 days of the award of contracts”.

"There is also no dispute that the secretary of state failed to publish redacted contracts in accordance with the transparency policy", Justice Chamberlain continued.

Justice Chamberlain called the lack of transparency an "historic failure" by the DHSC, before adding: "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".

But speaking to the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show (February 21), Hancock not only refused to apologize but defended the lack of transparency by claiming the contracts were published “just after a fortnight late” on average, “because my team were working seven days a week, often 18 hours a day, to get hold of the equipment that was saving lives".

"People can make up their own view about whether I should have told my team to stop buying PPE [Personal Protective Equipment] and spend the time bringing forward those transparency returns by just over a fortnight or whether I was right to buy the PPE and get it to the frontline”, Hancock retorted.

Hancock’s combative performance on the Andrew Marr Show drew a fierce reaction from the Green Party’s Lucas (one of the original complainants), who took to Twitter to accuse the Health Secretary of dishonesty over PPE. 

— Caroline Lucas (@CarolineLucas) February 21, 2021 ">http://

Listening to this again from #Marr makes me so angry. How dare Hancock suggest he broke law to prevent shortages of PPE on the frontline? Health workers died for lack of right PPE at right time because of incompetence, cronyism & waste - does he think our memories are so short?

— Caroline Lucas (@CarolineLucas) February 21, 2021

However, Labor Party leader, Keir Starmer, reacted relatively weakly to the court ruling, and the associated political controversy, by refusing to call for Hancock’s resignation.

Starmer told Sky News (February 21) that there has been “a lot of wasted money” that is a “real cause for concern” but a resignation is “not what the public really want to see”.



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