Ministers have been accused of writing a “charter for cronies” that would legalise its Covid “VIP lane” and hand more power to ministers, ahead of its procurement bill returning to the Commons.
Labour backs the principle of consolidating the “spaghetti” of different procurement rules to create a more straightforward framework, but has signalled to ministers that they must remove loopholes from the bill.
The opposition is planning to put forward amendments on Monday to the legislation to make VIP lanes illegal, as well as introduce non-performance “clawback clauses” into contracts so that failed providers will have to refund taxpayers’ money.
Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, said: “This government is presiding over a procurement racket at the expense of the British people. Under the Tories, cronies have never had it so good.
“They cut murky deals in the dark with their mates using taxpayers’ money and this procurement bill would hand them a golden ticket to do it all over again. This bill is a charter for cronies. Labour is demanding ministers act to ensure genuine transparency and clawback in contracts.
“Under a Labour government there will be no hiding place for cronies and no corner for corruption. We’ll give the Tory sleaze merchants their marching orders, end handouts to tax havens and strike off failed providers.”
It comes as new Labour analysis claims that £3.7bn in taxpayers’ money has gone to “friends” and donors to the Conservative party since the start of the pandemic.
Ministers said that the new bill, which gets its second reading on Monday, will simplify four sets of laws into one, opening up more opportunities for small businesses and voluntary groups to win more of the £300bn of goods and services the government buys each year.
They said it allows the UK to shape its own procurement rules post-Brexit, with new regulations to help the government in emergency situations, such as during health pandemics, ensuring the authorities can act quickly and transparently to buy vital goods.
During the Lords stages of the bill, the government was defeated on five of the six amendments that were put to a vote. The only vote the Tories whipped their peers to turn out for was to block an amendment to ban the VIP lane.