Midlothian MP's Bill to stop cronyism in government contracts passes first hurdle

A backbench bill proposed in the Commons by Midlothian SNP MP Owen Thompson to stop ministers giving contracts to friends and colleagues without scrutiny has passed its first hurdle.

Tuesday, 2nd February 2021, 7:00 am
Owen Thompson's bill will now progress to a second reading at Westminster

The Ministerial Interests (Emergency Powers) Bill – which would require Minsters to answer questions in parliament about any personal, political, or financial connections they have to companies who are given government contracts – will now go forward to a second reading.

Mr Thompson said: "Anyone in public office should be there to serve the public good, not exploit their position to line the pockets of themselves, their pals or party donors. Yet during the crisis we’ve seen lucrative contracts go to firms with little experience in public procurement, but clear links to people in power.

"It could be said a Crony Virus is threatening the health of our public services and emergency action is needed to get this government under control.”

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He said he recognise the need to procure goods at a scale and speed never done before due to the pandemic so usual processes to ensure best value to the public purse were set aside.

"But it looks suspiciously like the emergency has been used as a catch-all excuse by this government to bypass scrutiny at every turn.

"The National Audit Office reported a staggering £10 billion worth of contracts had been awarded without competition by the end of July. Those on the VIP list, allowing firms with links to politicians or senior officials to pitch directly, had a one-in-ten chance of success compared to just 0.7 per cent for those going through the usual channels.

"In the full light of day this may well be a scandal to rival or even surpass the MP expenses scandal – but even if it's not, it's crucial we get greater transparency and get the regulations in order to prevent corruption setting in.

"The good thing about this bill is, if the right people or companies are getting the jobs, Ministers will have a chance to answer questions and convince us that it is a mere coincidence the contract is being given to an old school chum, their local pub landlord, a colleague’s wife, a Tory donor or Vote Leave campaign colleague. There is nothing to fear from this bill, if there is nothing to hide. "

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