Do you sometimes switch off when people start talking millions and billions? It’s easy to think of it as just Monopoly money.
The government spends about £284 billion every year of our money on procurement contracts for all kinds of goods and services, everything from ships to medicines, consultants and much more besides.
Like others, I am really worried about jobs and how Birmingham families will cope as redundancies mount and the spectre of unemployment returns. We’re about to procure three new support vessels for the Navy. If we build them here, with a British consortium, it will sustain 2,500 jobs but the government’s considering putting them out to tender so the jobs could go anywhere.
How exactly do these decisions get made? When it comes to coronavirus, the government doesn’t seem to worry about tendering. At least 13 companies have received contracts worth £500 million without any competition and they’re all linked to prominent Tories. Randox Laboratories, with a former minister on the payroll, have been given £133million for test kits even though 750,000 of their kits were contaminated. Public First, run by friends of Dominic Cummings, have been handed contracts worth almost £2 million.
Last week our hapless Health Secretary announced he was scrapping Public Health England and setting up a new body to be run by Baroness Harding. She won’t undergo any competitive scrutiny because she’s got all the right qualifications. Her daddy was a hereditary peer, her husband’s a Tory MP and she’s very good friends with lots of senior Tories.
Is it time for a fresh approach to how these contracts are awarded? What if the tests were value for money and impact on our communities? What if the company given the contract had to guarantee local employment? What if they had to recruit a certain number of local apprentices or sponsor an agreed number of university places? Maybe competence and conditionality rather than dubious competition and ‘so called’ right connections should become our watchwords. In these difficult times, wouldn’t that be a much better way to use our money to level up Mr Johnson?