Labour demands ‘transparency and accountability’ over Covid-19 contracts handed to private sector

"The value and performance of government contracts... is a matter of public interest," shadow Cabinet Office minister says

Questions raised over private firms' role in delivering services such as testing and PPE. Photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire/PA Images

By Eleanor Langford

15 May 2020

Labour has called for greater transparency over the “huge sums of taxpayers’ money” spent on private sector contracts amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Writing to the government, shadow Cabinet Office minister Rachel Reeves has demanded answers about the value for money and performance of contractors during the crisis. 

Under the Coronavirus Act, normal bidding processes have been suspended to allow the government to source services and products more quickly.


But ministers have come under increased scrutiny in recent weeks over delays to testing services, the availability of personal protective equipment (PPE), and the rollout of contact tracing. 

In her letter, Reeves said: “Labour wants to support the government wherever it can to deliver the most effective response to the Covid-19 pandemic possible. 

“I ask these questions in the spirit of constructive opposition: transparency about the delivery of some of the key aspects of the government’s response to coronavirus is crucial if we are to have effective scrutiny. 

“I hope that you will agree that the value and performance of government contracts which have been awarded in response to the pandemic is a matter of public interest, and that transparency in relation to these contracts can only assist the government in delivering a more effective response.”

The Labour frontbencher asks the government a string of questions about the role of the major auditing firm Deloitte in the delivery of services such as testing and PPE. 

She also presses for answers on companies connected to the new NHS contact tracing app, as well as on why some Covid-19 tests have been processed abroad.

Last week, the government admitted that 50,000 tests had been flown to America due to laboratory issues in the UK.

Further questions relate to the role of public services provider Serco, which has been appointed to run call centres for manual contact tracing but has faced criticism in recent years.

Serco was handed a multi-million pound fine by the Ministry of Justice in 2019 after admitting to misleading the government about profits made on a scheme to electronically tag offenders.

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