The High Court has ruled that a Tory government decision to award a £560,000 contract to friends of a Tory minister and advisor gave rise to “apparent bias” and was unlawful.
The Tories are already trying to spin this by saying there was no suggestion of “actual” bias, and the contract was not awarded due to personal or professional connections between Michael Gove and Dominic Cummings and their friends in Public First, Rachel Wolf and James Frayne. She co-wrote the Conservatives’ 2019 election manifesto and he worked on the campaign to leave the European Union with Cummings.
I don’t know what the Cabinet Office is trying to achieve by saying that. The judge’s ruling is crystal clear: the government broke the law:
Delivering her ruling, Mrs Justice O’Farrell said: “The claimant is entitled to a declaration that the decision of 5 June 2020 to award the contract to Public First gave rise to apparent bias and was unlawful.”
Nothing else matters. Public First and the Cabinet Office can say what they like but the decision to award the contract to Tory cronies was not permitted within the law and that is the end of the matter.
This Site has been reporting on it since July last year, when the contract first became public knowledge.
I wrote at the time: “It’s jobs for the boys, the Old School Tie, and every other example of favouritism you can imagine in the Tory government during the Covid crisis!
“They’re using emergency regulations, that allow services to be commissioned quickly, to pass huge amounts of money to their friends.
“And apparently there’s a conflict of interest as it seems to involve Eurosceptics working on focus group research related to Brexit – parts of the work contracted involved research on public attitudes to Brexit, which is dodgy in a Eurosceptic firm – although a Cabinet Office spokesman said this was a bookkeeping issue. Do you believe that?
“The Tories are using the Covid-19 crisis to funnel public money away from vital services and into their friends’ bank accounts.”
And I quoted The Guardian‘s report which is interesting in that it states the contract was worth £840,000. It’s curious that these amounts always fall when people are in trouble over them – and always rise when public money is being used to pay.
One piece of information that should have been a dead giveaway was the fact that Public First’s registered office is a residential address – a house – in Long Eaton, Nottinghamshire.
Public First was also behind the disastrous plan to bias (there’s that word again) ‘A’ level results against students who didn’t go to Public Schools like Eton.
The collaboration led to the result we all know:
The algorithm used by Ofqual downgraded 40% of the A-level grades assessed by teachers under the process set after the exams were cancelled, leading to a storm of protest from students, parents, school leaders and teachers, that culminated in a complete government U-turn on Monday and the system being scrapped.
Details of this contract were not made public and Ofqual declined to say how much public money had been spent hiring the firm of Tory cronies. It was only later that the organisation had to admit handing over £49,000 of your money to buy poorer results for your children.
Ofqual’s boss at the time, Sally Collier, later resigned – apparently in shame at having given Public First the contract, and at what that firm did with it.
So now here’s the big question: if the contract to Public First was not legal, shouldn’t that money be paid back?
And if so – by whom?
Say what you like about Public First; the work was carried out. Whether it was carried out to an acceptable standard has not been recorded (and the Ofqual experience casts doubt on that) but somebody did the work that was contracted, and we may expect that it was done in good faith.
So, shouldn’t the government minister(s), who broke the law by awarding the contract wrongly, now pay back into public funds at least the £560,000 quoted in the High Court’s judgement?
Matt Hancock, maybe? Or Boris Johnson?
Have YOU donated to my crowdfunding appeal, raising funds to fight false libel claims by TV celebrities who should know better? These court cases cost a lot of money so every penny will help ensure that wealth doesn’t beat justice.
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