Campaigners challenged the contract awarded to market research firm Public First.
LONDON — The U.K. government acted unlawfully by awarding a contract to a company whose bosses were friends of Downing Street adviser Dominic Cummings, a High Court judge has ruled.
The Cabinet Office paid more than £500,000 of taxpayers’ money to market research firm Public First for focus group and communications services after the start of the coronavirus crisis in March 2020.
Lawyers representing campaign group the Good Law Project argued Cummings, who was then Boris Johnson’s chief adviser, favored his friends for the contract.
The judge, Justice Finola O’Farrell, said, “The decision of 5 June 2020 to award the contract to Public First gave rise to apparent bias and was unlawful.”
Jo Maugham, director of the Good Law Project, said after the ruling, “This is not government for the public good — it is government for the good of friends of the Conservative Party.”
The Cabinet Office said in a statement that the issues raised in court had been addressed and there was “no suggestion of actual bias,” welcoming the ruling that it could award the contract as it did due to the COVID situation.
A spokesman for Public First said, “We’re deeply proud of the work we did in the early stages of the pandemic, which helped save lives.”
They added, “The judge rejected most of the Good Law Project’s claims, not finding actual bias in the awarding of this work, nor any problems with the pace or scale of the award.”
The case centered on a deal, awarded without competition under emergency COVID exemptions, for “qualitative research regarding public attitudes and behaviors in relation to coronavirus.”
The government said at the time that the deal met an “immediate need to give the public accurate, relevant information” about its response to the virus.
However, campaigners highlighted a string of emails and instant messages from inside government in which a senior official in the Government Communication Service described Public First as “mates” of both Cummings and former No. 10 communications chief Lee Cain.
Hitting out at the judgment on Twitter, Cummings said the court’s decision would only encourage officials to “focus on creating a Potemkin paper trail,” and argued that such an approach would have been counterproductive amid the crisis.
He added: “This is already a hugely destructive problem & today’s judgment will make it even worse. If covid doesn’t justify focus on outcome>process, nothing will.”
Source: POLITICO https://www.politico.eu/article/uk-government-acted-unlawfully-coronavirus-contract-firm-dominic-cummings/?utm_source=RSS_Feed&utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=RSS_Syndication