GK Adviser Rebecca McMahon assesses the potential impact of the Horizon scandal on the Labour Party’s procurement plans.
How will the Horizon Scandal influence Labour policy?
The renewed focus on the Post Office’s procurement of Fujitsu’s Horizon software has brought to light procurement issues which are pertinent to the Labour Party.
Labour has already committed to increasing oversight of government procurement – Shadow Chancellor, Rachel Reeves has proposed a “covid corruption commissioner” watchdog to recover taxpayer money lost due to the Government’s VIP “fast lane” for contract delivery during the pandemic. Evidently, the Party is keen on a system where both the Government and individual suppliers are held to greater account. The Horizon scandal only adds to its case.
The Party is not just set on preventing bad outcomes from government procurement; they are also aiming to use it as an actively positive instrument, with Deputy Leader Angela Rayner placing an emphasis on “social and environmental factors”.
She also urged the Government to ensure that “contracts do not always automatically go offshore” and instead are awarded “to businesses creating local jobs, skills and training”. Labour has also said it would “make social value mandatory in public contract design”, introducing measures to promote “decent work” and strengthen supply chains.
Labour to lean on procurement to digitalise services?
As well as encouraging more ethical procurement, Labour is also keen to use procurement to further digitalise public services. This is especially true of the NHS, where key figures like Wes Streeting, Shadow Health Secretary, have been vocal about the need to invest in innovative health technologies and make more effective use of health data.
However, in the wake of the Horizon controversy, any efforts to radically digitalise the NHS will be caveated by important questions about accountability.
Whether or not digitalisation will be a quick fix for the UK’s declining health provision, it is likely to be a key area for procurement under a Labour government. UK healthtech has expanded nine-fold since 2016, and the sector’s future could be bright under a future Starmer government.