Emails read to the High Court yesterday showed that civil servants in the Department of Health and Social Care were asked unlawfully to delay meeting their obligations to publish procurement contracts to meet the convenience of No.10 Special Advisers.
The Public Contracts Regulations require the Government to comply with its legal obligation to publish contracts within 30 days.
Internal emails dated 2 October showed that the Government Commercial Office understood it had breached this obligation and, in light of Good Law Project’s judicial review, wanted “to rectify this situation at the earliest opportunity”.
However, later that day a request was made by an unnamed DHSC civil servant to delay publication of contracts until the week commencing 12 October 2020.
Another civil servant responded with advice that “we are in legal breach. As we are already in breach I would rather we published as soon as possible. If Press Office do want to delay it would be a good idea to set out the reasons for that in a short note” but adding “it needs to go on No10 grid.”
On the following Monday, 5 October, the reply came that the delay was needed “to allow No.10 SpAds/PO and policy enough time to be sighted and given full opportunity to comment if needed. This was the rationale for pushing it to the 12th.”
The contracts eventually published in the week commencing 12 October included £310m of contracts controversially awarded to pest control specialist Crisp Websites Limited trading as Pestfix.
The full summary of yesterday’s judicial review hearing can be found here and we will update you on the judgment as soon as we receive it. In line with our commitment to transparency, the documentation in this litigation is available on our case page.