Background to the report
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government needed to act rapidly to create high-volume testing capacity in the UK. As part of these efforts, the government awarded contracts for testing services which included some to Randox Laboratories Ltd (Randox). Concerns have been raised in Parliament regarding the transparency and management of these contracts. Ministers commented in Parliament that the National Audit Office (NAO) had reviewed the government’s first testing contract with Randox, although our previous work did not examine the contract with Randox in detail.
Scope of the report
To increase transparency and accountability, we have carried out a more detailed review of government contracts let to Randox between January 2020 and December 2021. The report focuses on the actions of the Department of Health & Social Care (the Department) in awarding and managing those contracts. This report sets out:
- a summary of the Department’s procurement process (Part One);
- the procurement and performance of the Department’s first contract with Randox for COVID-19 testing services (Part Two); and
- how the Department awarded subsequent contracts to Randox (Part Three).
The government acted quickly at the start of the pandemic to increase significantly the scale of testing capacity from a very low base and let its first testing contract with Randox in March 2020. The speed of action required at the beginning of the pandemic to build high-volume testing capacity necessitated the use of emergency procurement without competitive tendering. However, the Department did not document key decisions adequately, disclose ministerial meetings with Randox fully or keep full records of ministerial discussions involving Randox. The gaps in the audit trail mean that it is not possible to provide positive assurance in the normal way, but we have not seen any evidence that the government’s contracts with Randox were awarded improperly.
Our previous reports on COVID-19-related procurement and those of Nigel Boardman have already recommended improvements necessary to ensure that even when emergency procurement is necessary and the priority is speed of action, an adequate audit trail is maintained to ensure transparency, accountability and robust decision-making. Government has already started to implement some of these improvements, and we will follow up progress.