The government has awarded state contracts worth more than £1billion to deal with the coronavirus pandemic to private firms without public tenders, using emergency powers to fast-track agreements.
Companies including Randox Laboratories and US-run Brake Bros are among the companies to have been handed contracts.
The Government has fast-tracked the rules on awarding state contracts so that they don’t have to allow a time period for other companies to bid for the work.
The contracts include a voucher scheme for children for free school meals, providing food boxes for vulnerable people and coronavirus testing services.
Over £1billion in state contracts have been awarded to private companies without public tender as the Government looks to fast-track deals in response to the coronavirus pandemic
An investigation by The Guardian showed that Randox Laboratories, which donated £160,800 to the Conservative and Unionist Party between September 19, 2011 and September 10, 2018, received a contract worth £133million for the provision of covid-19 testing services.
Top ten state contracts awarded without tender
- Edenred – £234million for free school meal vouchers
- BFS Group and Brake Bros – £208million for food boxes
- Hologic Ltd – £151million for testing services
- Randox Laboratories Ltd – £133million for testing services
- Computacenter (UK) Ltd – £60million to supply computers to teachers and disadvantaged children
- Hospital Services Ltd – £35million to purchase IIR face masks
- Bloc Blinds – £26million to buy face shields
- Oxford Nanopore – £23million to provide test kits, training materials and support
- Bloc Blinds – £22million as a second contract for face shields
- Techniclean Supply – £20million to purchase IIR face masks
Randox has employed Conservative MP Owen Paterson as a £100,000-a-year paid consultant since 2015, the register of MPs financial interests shows.
The company declined to say whether Mr Paterson, a former environment secretary and MP for North Shropshire, had any contribution in securing the contract.
At least 177 contracts have been handed to companies by the government to deal with the pandemic.
115 of those contracts were awarded under the fast-track route.
Gus Tugendhat, founder of research organisation Tussell and a cousin of Tory MP Tom Tugendhat, said: ‘Since the start of the Covid crisis we’ve seen a spike in non-competed direct awards as public bodies rush to purchase the products and services they urgently need.’
Guidelines say that the Government must release details of contracts awarded using emergency powers within 30 days but a full list is yet to be issued.
The largest contract awarded was worth £234million and went to French company Edenred, which specialises in corporate services.
The contract secured meal vouchers so that more than 1million school pupils could have a free lunch.
Edenred said its voucher scheme had started well despite being given only ten days to set it up.
It also said that they are accountable for every penny spent and that suggestions the contract was lucrative were false.
Daniel Bruce, the chief executive of anti-corruption campaigners Transparency International UK, said the government should not use the pandemic as a way of loosening controls over accountability.
He said: ‘The alarming number of contracts seemingly awarded without any competition risks setting a dangerous precedent which may harm the public interest and reduce confidence.
‘When lucrative deals are awarded with no competitive tender and away from public scrutiny, taxpayer money could easily be wasted on overpriced equipment or substandard services.’
A further £208million has been given to the US-run Brake Brothers and South African-run BFS Group to provide food boxes for vulnerable people.
Randox Laboratories Ltd received a contract worth £133million for the provision of covid-19 testing services. They employ Conservative MP Owen Paterson (pictured) as a £100,000-a-year paid consultant
Bloc Blinds in Northern Ireland also broke into the top ten of highest valued contracts awarded.
They received two contracts for the purchase of face shields worth £26million and the £22million.
Ernst & Young and PricewaterhouseCoopers, both in Northern Ireland, also received work without competition to create an operations room in the Executive Office in response to the pandemic.
US retail giant Amazon were also awarded an £8million contract to deliver home testing kits but they refused the fee, saying they would cover the costs of the work themselves.
A spokesman for the Department of Health said the contracts were in line with regulations in unusual circumstances.
One contract the government is yet to publish the details of is with the chemists Boots who say that the fee they received was to cover costs and was not commercial
He also said that all contracts were awarded on the basis that the companies provided value for money.
The contracts extended beyond products though.
Cruise ship company Noble Caledonia received £1.5million to bring 118 people home from Antarctica.
Contracts that are yet to be publicly published were also awarded to Deloitte, the outsourcing firms G4S, Sodexo, Serco, Mitie and Boots the chemists.
Boots said that its contract only covered operational costs and was not a commercial transaction.
Sodexo said its contract was signed in March.
Deloitte declined to comment.