High Court judgement on PPE procurement
I have been part of a legal action against the Government over secretive PPE contracts and on February 19th, I was delighted to learn that we had won our case. The High Court ruled that the Secretary of State for Health had broken the law by failing to publish details of Covid-related contracts. The judgement was crystal clear: the public "were entitled to see who this money was going to, what it was being spent on and how the relevant contracts were awarded."
This matters because billions of pounds of public money have been spent without a competitive tendering process and without oversight. By not publishing details, it is impossible for Parliament, the oversight body (the National Audit Office) or the public to hold ministers to account. When we know there is a so-called VIP lane for companies or individuals with connections to the Tory party, it makes it even more important that this information is made public in a timely way.
The Prime Minister’s claim that “all the details are on the record” simply isn’t true: we are still in the dark about many of the contracts which have been awarded, especially via the VIP lane. We don’t know who got them, why they got them and how much they were paid.
Matt Hancock refused to apologise for acting unlawfully – in fact, he said he’d do it again if necessary. An utterly shameful response, made worse when he claimed in various media interviews that hospitals had never run out of PPE even though most of us remember doctors having to rely on bin bags as makeshift gowns and nurses buying their own goggles from DIY stores.
There was an urgent debate on the ruling in the Commons, when again the health minister refused to apologise for the law-breaking. He also refused to answer my question about where we could find out where the money had gone.
Roadmap out of Coronavirus lockdown
We learned last week how the Government intends to lift the restrictions of lockdown. The gradual approach is a sensible one and I hope the Prime Minister has learned from his catalogue of mistakes over the past year, when he has too often over-promised and under-delivered.
But if this approach is to work, it needs to come with the support that people need – including realistic financial help for people who have to self-isolate, help for businesses and long overdue support for the 3 million self-employed who’ve received nothing since last March.
Many businesses in Brighton now know they’ll have to wait many weeks before they can re-open their doors, and they face a cliff-edge when business rates again become due at the end of March. I have written to the Chancellor, with the backing of nearly 200 businesses in the city, calling for an extension to business rates relief and VAT reduction, to allow these businesses to properly get back on their feet. The letter is here. I also wrote about this in my column for Metro.
Long Covid compensation
As a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus, I have been hearing distressing stories of people – many of them frontline health and care workers – who are suffering from Long Covid. The symptoms can be debilitating: previously fit and healthy people now struggling to walk up a flight of stairs. We have written to the Prime Minister saying Long Covid should be recognised as an occupational disease, with proper compensation paid to frontline workers suffering from it.
Green Homes Grant scheme
There have been mixed messages from the Government about the future of the Green Homes Grant scheme, which offers financial help to people to retrofit their homes and make them more energy efficient. The Prime Minister told the Commons it wasn’t being cut, but the business minister has said the unspent funding is not being rolled over into next year. I have tabled an Early Day Motion in Parliament saying the scheme has to be continued, and improved.
It is absolutely vital that our leaky homes are retrofitted to cut emissions, but this scheme has been strangled in red tape, the contract given to a US company which appears to be completely incompetent, and now the Government is trying to justify letting it die because of insufficient take up. In fact it’s clear that there is huge demand. But it’s not only householders who are losing out: businesses which are doing the work are not getting paid because the vouchers aren’t being processed. You can read more about this on my website.
A green recovery from Coronavirus
The Environmental Audit Committee, which I’m a member of, issued an important report on how to ensure a green recovery from Coronavirus. The key message was that investment in a green economy has to be front-loaded and in line with the temperature goals of the Paris Agreement. It must also protect and restore nature. The budget on Wednesday will be a key indicator of whether the Government has got this message and will show the leadership it must as hosts of this year’s UN climate summit.
Like many people in Brighton and Hove, I was shocked to hear that RISE have lost contracts to operate outreach and refuge services for survivors of domestic abuse. RISE have played such an important role in the city for more than 25 years and are more than a domestic abuse service: they are community champions and passionate advocates for positive change. I worked closely with them on an amendment to the Domestic Abuse Bill last year, seeking anonymity for survivors of abuse.
I have been in regular touch with the charity’s CEO, Jo Gough, and have spoken to councillors, officers and the Council’s Chief Executive to find out how this happened and what can be done. There is more about what I’m doing on my website.