The government should create a central register of all public service contracts to increase transparency and counter the perception that there is "one rule for government friends and another for everyone else", according to the general secretary of the Trades Union Congress.
A "Domesday Book" of contracts across central and local government and the NHS would help tackle “clear double standards and a gaping lack of transparency and accountability” in spending, Frances O’Grady said .
“At present the government does not record, monitor or consistently publish data on contracts in an accessible and open way,” she wrote in an article for The Times.
“We deserve to know who runs our services, how well they perform, how much profit they make, what dividends they pay, how much their senior management pay themselves, how they treat their workforce and what their tax arrangements are.”
She said that a central register would help procurement officials by providing “a valuable source of evidence”, adding that civil servants spent months working out which subsidiaries of Carillion were providing specific services following the company’s 2018 collapse.
She suggested the mechanism could be put in place via the procurement bill, which is due before parliament next year.
The call follows Owen Paterson’s resignation as an MP, following following a recommendation by the House of Commons Standards Committee that he be suspended over an “egregious case of paid advocacy”, then a government U-turn over changing the rules on such suspensions. O’Grady pointed to Paterson’s client Randox winning hundreds of millions of pounds of government contracts for Covid-19 testing equipment.
She also pointed to broader criticism of how contracts were awarded during the pandemic. A November 2020 report by the National Audit Office found that companies with connections to ministers and civil servants placed in a “high priority lane” were 14 times more likely to win contracts for personal protective equipment during the early stages of the pandemic than other suppliers.
"Creating a central register of contracts across all parts of the public sector from government departments to councils and NHS trusts — that anyone can access at any time — would be good for taxpayers," O'Grady said.
"It could help to counter the growing public mood that there is one rule for government friends and another for everyone else."
Under existing rules, most public sector contract notices are published online, such as through the UK’s Find a Tender service that has replaced the EU’s Tenders Electronic Daily system. Government departments and other public bodies publish itemised spending data online.