Folllwing a brief break from the spotlight, Diabolic Cummings is back, this time concerning the £540k contract allegedly passed to his friends without any formal tender process.
Sounds ominous. And worse still, the Cabinet Office spunked up some COVID crapola as their justification.
Yet, the real battle on wasteful government procurement ought perhaps to focus not on the occasional sensational and dramatic thunderbolts but on the institutional waste of a skewed system.
Much of central government buying is managed through e-auctions. Interested parties log in to the auction site, pump in their numbers and the most attractive price wins.
Construction moguls all over the country will be chortling up their sleeves at the wheeze that rides this wave of psychological simplicity. Companies deliberately lowball, snatch up the contract, and get their feet under the table. Once the timeline of the project reaches the point of no return, they spoof up additional cost requirements ushered in by, ahem, ‘unforeseen developments’.
Everybody forms a tortoise under the shell of inevitability, and the show rumbles on. After all, if a high-value project goes south, a wheelbarrow-load of cash will necessarily be lost. Even worse, it may lead to political exsanguination.
At that point, the problem becomes a money-magnet for every under-pressure mandarin with their clammy hands on the public purse.
Not all business is subject to auction, though, and once ‘on a framework’, a company can be handed theoretical blanket deals under which call-off work can be pinged out on a whim. So, while the Cummings question centres on a particular handout to a specified party, sacks of dough are routinely hoofed out to a range of grateful recipients.
No need for any exculpatory COVID crud if you have wheeled in a procedural Trojan nag. Rogues can blag their way onto frameworks and then fill their boots. It’s like taking bungs while kitted out in a hazmat suit.
Which brings us to the current judicial review.
Already, the Government has racked up £508k worth of costs, and counting, in their defence. With these civil court cases, the loser typically pays the costs of the winning side, which makes this a high-stakes battle.
If the government wins, the crowdfunded legal campaign will need even more support to pay the bill.
If the government loses, the taxpayer foots the bill.
So, in brief, a case that is all about squandering £540k of taxpayers’ money is already looking like setting back the taxpayer an additional £508k, whatever the judgement.
And meanwhile, a snowball that haemorrhages green trundles down the cash mountain, unabated.
Sounds like they’re all looking down the wrong end of the telescope.
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