COVID-19 PPE Extremely Urgent Procurement in England. A Cautionary Tale for an Overheating Public Governance
To be published in D Cowan and Ann Mumford (eds), Pandemic Legalities (Bristol University Press, Forthcoming)
9 Pages Posted: 15 Oct 2020
Date Written: October 14, 2020
In this short paper, I reflect on the case study of the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE) for the English NHS during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. I put forward two main claims. My first claim is that the UK Government not only was particularly ill-positioned to deal with the pandemic as a result of years of austerity and the institutional unsettling resulting from the continuous reform of the NHS, its internal market and its supply chain—but also due to the imminence of Brexit and its political ramifications. My second contribution is that, in its desperate reaction to the PPE fiasco, the UK Government misused and abused the disapplication of the standard procurement rules on the basis of the ‘extremely urgent need’ exemption. This resulted in the opaque award of large numbers of high value contracts to companies that would not survive basic screening under normal conditions. Overall, my goal is to lay bare the more general problems in the UK Government’s approach to the governance of public procurement and its increasing insularity as a result of Brexit, with the hope that this will show a path for change that could avert even more significant fiascos in the face of the massive challenges that climate change will bring.
Keywords: Public procurement, extreme urgency, unregulated procurement, PPE, COVID-19, NHS, centralisation, governance, abuse, direct awards, reform
JEL Classification: H57, K23, K40
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation