SNP to introduce Bill to tackle ‘rampant Tory cronyism’

SNP MP Owen Thompson is today present the Ministerial Interests (Emergency Powers) Bill

A Bill may be passed today that would go some way to tackling the “rampant Tory cronyism” at the heart of the UK government.

The SNP MP, Owen Thompson, is presenting the Ministerial Interests (Emergency Powers) Bill today (Wednesday, 27 January) that would force UK Ministers to answer questions about any personal, political or financial connections they may have to a company that is awarded a government contract. 

It comes following a series of revelations that the Westminster government has awarded billions of pounds in taxpayer money to companies linked to the Tory party during the Covid-19 pandemic.

To name just a few, a former Tory chairman, Andrew Feldman, got a job advising a health minister during the pandemic despite potential conflicts of interest with clients of the lobbying firm he runs.

In a similar vein, Health and Safety business, Globus (Shetland) Limited, has donated more than £400,000 to the Tory party since 2016. Then, in September 2020, it was reported that the company won a £93.8 million government contract to supply respirator face masks.

A recent National Audit Office report also revealed a lack of transparency and adequate documentation of UK government procurement decisions during the Covid-19 pandemic. It highlight how a high priority VIP lane was set up to allow suppliers with links to politicians or senior officials to pitch directly for work. 

Information submitted to the Public Accounts Committee by Transparency International UK states 68 contracts, worth over £3 billion, merit further investigation. 66 percent of coronavirus-related contracts awarded between 1 February and 1 November 2020 (worth £8.4 billion) were not disclosed within the legal timeframe, and seventeen of the contracts awarded by the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) (worth £971 million) relate to companies with political connections.

Owen Thompson MP said: “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. My Bill, if passed, will help to stamp out this rampant Tory cronyism by holding UK Ministers to account over their decisions, and ensure the right people get the right jobs.

“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, much 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.

“I am urging 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 do the right thing and get on board. Those of us asking questions are not going to go away.”

Pascale Robinson is the campaigns officer at We Own It, an organisation that campaigns against privatisation and for 21st century public ownership, and said the Bill would be “an important step to tackle the cronyism and corruption” in government.

Mr Robinson said: “The government has been trying to outsource and privatise everything that moves during the pandemic, from the contact tracing system to test centres. The public have rightly been outraged about the staggering scale of this, and about just how many contracts have gone to companies who have a friend in the Conservative Party.

“That’s why this Bill from Owen Thompson would be an important step to tackle the cronyism and corruption at the heart of the government’s pandemic response. At a bare minimum, the government must enforce the most basic of procurement processes so that the public knows exactly when and why contracts are being awarded to companies that have ties to government ministers and MPs and that there is a proper tendering process for any contracts that are awarded.

“But the scandal goes much deeper than the jobs for the boys approach we’ve seen so much of this past year.

“Private companies – from Serco to Deloitte, Sitel to Randox – have routinely failed to deliver and have put lives needlessly at risk, a result we see time after time when public services are outsourced. It’s time to kick all of these companies out and to tear the scourge of outsourcing out of the Covid response for good.”

Lucy Skoulding is a freelance reporter at Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter. 

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