The Tories’ ‘chumocracy’ over Covid contracts is destroying public trust | Sophie …

The Tories' 'chumocracy' over Covid contracts is destroying public trust | Sophie Hill

Under the cover of an emergency, the government awarded £18bn in coronavirus-related contracts during the first six months of the pandemic, most with no competitive tendering processes. Meanwhile contracts totalling £1.5bn have gone to companies with connections to the Conservative party. Call it a “chumocracy” or straightforward incompetence: it’s clear there’s been a woeful lack of transparency when it comes to how taxpayers’ money is spent.

The more information we have about these contracts, the more complicated it becomes to piece them all together. As the junior health minister Lord Bethell recently told the House of Lords, the government relied on “informal arrangements” to fulfil urgent needs for PPE. One such informal arrangement was a phone call in April between Lord Bethell and Meller Designs, a company owned by a prominent Conservative party donor who has given more than £63,000 to the party. The company, which usually sells home and fashion accessories to retailers such as Marks & Spencer, was later awarded PPE contracts worth £163m.

This is by no means the only Covid contract with a whiff of cronyism about it. But it can be difficult to grasp the significance of these contracts unless you step back to see the bigger picture. As a political scientist with a background in maths, my first instinct was to start building a dataset. After all, even the most complex networks can be distilled to a list of nodes and the connections between them.…

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