How Matt Hancock broke the law | And why it matters

Matt Hancock was found this week to have broken the law by failing to publish the details of contracts awarded without competition for goods and services such as personal protective equipment (PPE) needed during the covid-19 pandemic.

This is the first of a series of Judicial Reviews by an eccentric group of lawyers called The Good Law Project led by kimono wearing fox killer Jolyon Maugham.

Back when the UK was in the EU it was bound by procurement rules which applied across the single market, and which prevented Governments from handing out contracts to their mates. The UK tended to be ridiculously pedantic about the way it applied these rules, while other countries were more flexible. When I worked with Government procurement I found the whole thing frustrating, particularly because the rigidity and complexity seemed to come from the British Civil Service rather than the EU.

Once we left the EU we were no longer bound by these rules, and Ministers happily handed out billions of public money to mates without any accountability. The GLP argued that British Law, and the general legal obligation on Ministers to spend public money wisely meant that we still had an obligation to publish contract award notices so their actions could be scrutinised, even though we had left the EU. The Judge agreed and forced Hancock and Department of Health were forced to publish the contract award notices.

I was baffled that Matt Hancock actually allowed it to go to court. Had he been sensible he would have simply published the contract award notices anyway and avoided a court case which he was bound to lose. By remedying the breach in advance he would have stopped the case. He didn’t.

This was an incredibly stupid because:

  1. by losing the court case he has created a precedent which Government will now have to follow
  2. he spent £200,000 of public money in the process

While all of this was going on I had a similar experience with the current Government, if a bit less dramatic. We applied to join the Kickstart programme to recruit young people. We were turned down, but weren’t given a reason why.

In the end I sent a Freedom of Information Act request to force DWP to reveal why we had been excluded, also asking for some supporting information on the experiences of other small companies.

DWP refused to release this information using the excuse that it was too expensive. After we complained that they were in breach of the Act they suggested we split our request over 2 FOIA requests, each of which they would process separately. By dealing with it as 3 different FOIAs not 1 they have increased the cost to taxpayers and wasted my time, but they have delayed releasing information that might embarrass the Minister.

These aren’t isolated incidents. This is a Government that believes that scrutiny and accountability are for little people, not for them or their mates. Their guiding philosophy is that the rich can do what they like and the rest of us can do what we are told.

They will lie, and deflect and dodge and delay to avoid having to tell the truth about their actions, and to avoid accountability for their decisions. Just like children caught stealing sweets. Ordinarily a Minster would have been sacked or forced to resign over this kind of dishonesty, but standards under Johnson are so low that nothing matters.

This is almost certainly the first of many challenges to the way the Government handed out cash to their mates during Covid.

I am not really convinced that many voters care right now. They knew Johnson was a cheat when they voted for him, and further proof of his lack of standards or morals doesn’t really matter.

This will however have a big impact on NHS staff who are being told that the Minister can find billions for his mates, but nothing for pay rises for clinical staff. The existential crisis facing the NHS isn’t privatisation. Its the continual demoralisation of staff.

The worst thing you can do to a highly motivated, high performing team is make them work with someone who is incompetent, lies, and yet hogs the glory.

Imagine what it must be like for NHS staff having to work under Johnson and Hancock.

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