Matt Hancock 'unapologetic' over failure to publish Covid contracts worth billions

Matt Hancock was unapologetic after the High Court ruled the UK Government unlawfully failed to publish details of billions of pounds' worth of coronavirus-related contracts.

Asked if he had anything to apologise for despite losing the case, Mr Hancock told the BBC: "People can make up their own view about whether I should have told my team to stop buying PPE and spend the time bringing forward those transparency returns by just over a fortnight.

"Or whether I was right to buy the PPE and get it to the front line. You tell me that that is wrong. You can't. And the reason you can't is because it was the right thing to do.

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"Legal cases about timings of transparency returns are completely second order compared to saving lives.

Health secretary Matt Hancock during a media briefing in Downing Street, London. Picture: Chris J Ratcliffe/PA Wire

"There is no health secretary in history who would have taken the view that they needed to take people off the project of buying PPE in order to ensure that nine months later the health secretary didn't have a slightly bumpy interview on the Marr programme.

"It is not what it is about, Andrew [Marr]. It is about doing the right thing."

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The health secretary "failed to publish redacted contracts in accordance with the transparency policy", a judge said on Friday, leading Labour to call for greater transparency and accountability.

But Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer did not call for Mr Hancock's resignation on Sunday despite the court ruling.

Sir Keir told Sky News' Sophy Ridge on Sunday: "I don't want to call for him to resign. I do think he is wrong about the contracts – there have been problems with the contracts, on transparency, on who the contracts have gone to.

"There's been a lot of wasted money and I think that is a real cause for concern.

"But, at the moment, at this stage of the pandemic, I want all government ministers working really hard to get us through."

Shadow Cabinet Office minister Rachel Reeves has written to Mr Hancock asking him to commit to "publishing all outstanding contracts, winding down emergency procurement powers and reintroducing tendering".

She said: "Matt Hancock cannot simply brush off this court ruling. He must commit to cleaning up the cronyism and waste that has marred government contracting during the pandemic.

"We have tried to get answers about who is getting VIP treatment, but the Conservatives are refusing to tell us. Now we know the health secretary acted unlawfully, these are no longer questions he can ignore.

"The Government must publish the outstanding contracts and details of the VIP lane as a first step to restoring public confidence."

The Good Law Project took legal action against the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) for its "wholesale failure" to disclose details of contracts agreed during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Government is required by law to publish a "contract award notice" within 30 days of the award of any contracts for public goods or services worth more than £120,000.

At a hearing earlier this month, the Good Law Project and three MPs – Labour's Debbie Abrahams, the Green Party's Caroline Lucas and Liberal Democrat Layla Moran – argued there had been a "dismal" failure by the DHSC to comply with the obligation.


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