How do Britons think the government should handle contracts in times of crisis?

Connor IbbetsonData Journalist
May 20, 2021, 8:00 AM GMT+0

Brits tend to think contracts should still be bid for, but are split over the use of tax break incentives

Civil servants have reported being overwhelmed with bids for government contracts at the height of the pandemic, with the government facing accusations that politically connected suppliers were put in the “VIP lane” for government jobs.

The Queen’s Speech laid the groundwork for new legislation that “will simplify procurement in the public sector” – but how do Britons think contracts should be handled in times of crisis?

Just over two in five Britons (44%) think that contracts should still be tendered (meaning companies are allowed to bid for the job) during times of national crisis. Some 44% of Conservative voters think allowing companies to bid for contracts is the correct way to go, compared to just over half of Labour voters (53%).

However, approaching a quarter of people (23%) think instead that contracts should simply be issued directly to companies – this includes a third of Conservative voters (34%) but only 14% of Labour supporters.

Is it acceptable to offer tax breaks as incentives?

Further scandal in the headlines has seen the Prime Minister himself dragged into the wider lobbying issue, after it was reported he said he would “fix” a tax issue for Sir James Dyson as the government sought to procure ventilators at the start of the pandemic

The public are split on whether it’s acceptable for the government to offer tax breaks as incentives to ensure it can procure the items it needs, however. Two in five (41%) say its unacceptable to offer tax breaks as incentives, compared to some 39% who think it is an acceptable practice to ensure the government gets what it needs.

Among voters, Conversative voters are more likely to think the idea is acceptable (59%) compared to some 21% of Labour voters. Instead, most Labour voters (64%) say the idea of tax breaks for companies in return for procurement is unacceptable – including over a third (37%) who say it is “very” unacceptable.

Should ministers be allowed to contact company representatives privately?

Currently, a loophole in the ministerial code allows lobbying of private companies to ministers to remain off the books. While ministers have to report one-to-one meetings that discuss official business, they are under no duty to report unofficial telephone or text communications, or “private” meetings.

The majority of Britons (69%) think that ministers should not have any private contact with people working at businesses hoping to secure a government contract, with just 12% saying they should be allowed to.

A majority of both major political factions, including 81% of Labour and 62% of Conservatives, think private contact between ministers and private sector employees should not be allowed. However, Tories are five times as likely (21% versus 4%) as their left-leaning peers to think ministers should be allowed to do so.

See full results here