While contingency-planning for a no-deal Brexit is undoubtedly sensible, this massive investment comes at a time of continuing austerity in many other areas of public spending. It’s more important than ever to scrutinise these Brexit contracts to ensure that public funds are being spent openly and wisely – precisely the subject of an ongoing Public Accounts Committee inquiry.
Public procurement notices are a revealing source of intelligence on the implementation of many government policies, Brexit included. We receive regular requests from the market and from the media for insight into spending on Brexit. As the 31st October deadline for leaving the EU looms and Brexit negotiations enter their most crucial phase yet, we have decided to start a new series of blogs examining the last month in Brexit-related contracting – of which this is the first edition.
A Trickle Turns Into A Flood
More than 50 Brexit-related public contracts have been published since May 2019. The value of these contracts has risen sharply, with £198m of contracts published since May, as compared to £225m in the previous 2.5 years.
In July 2019 the UK public sector published 10 contracts explicitly relating to Brexit, with a total value of £27m. This was down on May and June, but it was still one of the most active months since the referendum. Here are a few of the most significant contacts from last month.
No-deal ferries 2.0
The Department for Health & Social Care (DHSC) and Department for Transport (DfT) in July restarted the process of finding companies to ensure continuous supply routes for essential goods, including medicines, in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The DfT appears to have learned from the Seaborne Freight affair (originally brought to public attention by Tussell), which has so far cost the government up to £83m. This time it’s conducting a full OJEU-compliant procurement process, putting in place a framework of freight operators, and making all of the procurement documents publicly available. DHSC is running a concurrent process, though it’s not exactly clear how the contracts will differ between the two departments.
Communicating Brexit to Northern Irish citizens
The Northern Irish Executive Office is seeking a firm to develop a public information campaign for the civil service in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Worth £750k, the winning firm will develop a strategy to raise awareness of what EU Exit means for Northern Ireland and to provide “reassurance” to citizens.
Fears of Brexit prison riots at the MoJ
In July the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) published a £458k contract it had originally awarded to EY in January. The contract highlighted concerns at the Ministry about prison riots in the event of food shortages caused by a no-deal Brexit (a fact only discovered because the contract was not properly redacted, as Politico discovered). This is the first contract the Ministry has ever published that explicitly refers to Brexit. Big Four firms have collectively won 22 contracts from the UK public sector for Brexit advisory work – learn more about what the government is spending with the Big Four in one of our previous reports.
DEFRA continues to be the biggest Brexit procurer by volume
DEFRA alone was responsible for half of the Brexit-related contracts published by the UK public sector in July – continuing to be by far the most active department in Brexit-related procurement. Three of these had expired before they were published – authorities are encouraged to publish a contract within 90 days of its award.
These contracts include £15m won by Reed Professional Services for recruitment services, originally awarded in November 2017; and a £12m contract awarded to BCG in April 2018 to act as a Strategic Delivery Partner for 16 months through to August 2019.
The department's three other Brexit-related contracts were for research services, including analysis of port capacity; a post-Brexit chemicals regime; and serological testing services, collectively worth £126k. The department has now published 28 Brexit-related contracts worth £31m since the referendum. It will be interesting to see how this activity develops now that Michael Gove has changed his role within the cabinet.
Impact of Brexit on business
UK Research & Innovation, the arms-length body of BEIS, published two Brexit-related contracts in July. One was a £40k contract awarded to Bdrc for access to its monthly Business survey data, which will allow the department to track the impact of Brexit on businesses, and how they are preparing. According to the notice, this contract was awarded without conducting a tender process – which suggests that it was an urgent procurement under significant time pressure. The other contract for £37k went to Allen Lane to provide a Project Manager for the department to work on “the EU Exit related project EU ETS”.
BEIS & its arms-lengths bodies have awarded 15 explicitly Brexit-related contracts worth £5m in total since the referendum.
Outside Central Gov't
Obviously Brexit does not just affect Central Government, though historically we have seen Brexit mentioned in far fewer notices from the wider public sector. However last month Liverpool City Council published a £3m notice looking for a fund manager for its ‘Brexit Resilience Fund’. There are few details beyond this, but it’s a clear indication of efforts to mitigate risk from anticipated disruption. With the announcement that Whitehall has committed £20m to help local authorities navigate Brexit, we expect to see a sharp increase in Brexit contracts emanating from the wider public sector.
Through our regular reporting on Brexit-related contracts – obtained by monitoring public disclosures on Contracts Finder and OJEU - we will continue to highlight procurement notices of public interest in order to enable topical debate on the biggest issue of the day.
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