Government's Covid Inquiry costs soar as £145m spent on private contracts so far, new data shows

14 December 2023, 08:11 | Updated: 14 December 2023, 14:44

The Covid Inquiry has cost the government £145m so far.
The Covid Inquiry has cost the government £145m so far. Picture: Alamy
Henry Riley

By Henry Riley

The Covid Inquiry has already awarded private contracts worth £145 million, LBC can reveal.

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The Covid Inquiry has officially cost over £56 million so far, according to official documents. These figures are from its inception to September 30 this year.

The costs make it the second most expensive statutory inquiry since 2005 - when the Inquiries Act was introduced.

The total spend of the probe is now expected to be around £70 million, taking into account the average quarterly cost in the time since September’s official figures.

However, LBC can reveal – working alongside public sector procurement platform Tussell – that the total value for private contracts awarded in connection to the Covid inquiry stands at £145 million.

Analysis from LBC and Tussell looking at published government data shows that within the huge, estimated sum of contracts relating to the inquiry the Cabinet Office is scheduled to spend £13.9 million on law firm Burges Salmon, whilst data processing firm Epiq Systems has been awarded over £25 million in government contracts.

In fact, the cost of solicitor and legal contracts is currently scheduled to be over £50 million by the end of 2026 and could yet rise further – with contracts awarded to law firms including Mills & Reeve and Sharpe Pritchard.

Many of these contract payments will not be received in one lump sum, but are likely to be paid over a period of time – with some of the contracts lasting until 2027 – and further contracts potentially awarded before the inquiry concludes in 2026.

A Number 10 spokesperson insisted that it will continue to "fully cooperate with the inquiry" stressing that the "Independent Chair [Baroness Hallett] can work within the existing and established terms of reference" to ensure the government can be "best prepared for the future".

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The £145 million government spent on private contracts relating to the Covid Inquiry is vastly more than the estimated procurement cost of the Manchester Arena Bombing Inquiry which, according to Tussell, was at £7.2 million.

The total cost of the inquiry has been a recent topic of scrutiny.

The independent fact-checking service FullFact estimates that the Iraq Inquiry, chaired by Sir John Chilcot, spent just over £13 million over the eight years it was in action. Whilst the Leveson Inquiry into aspects of the press came in at about £5.4 million over roughly a year.

In both of those public inquiries around two-thirds of the total costs went spent on staff and lawyers.

The official £56 million total cost of the Covid inquiry to date includes over £30 million spent on legal costs, an Inquiry Secretariat cost of over £7 million and a remuneration to the Chair Baroness Hallett of £259,000 to date.

The TaxPayers’ Alliance estimates that from its formal establishment the Covid Inquiry will have a total cost of over £156 million.

The most expensive public inquiry in recent years was the Bloody Sunday inquiry which ran from 1998 to 2010 and cost £192 million – with nearly £100 million spent on legal representation.

In response a spokesperson for the inquiry said: “The Inquiry Chair, Baroness Hallett, set out in her opening statement the substantial task faced by the Inquiry to consider and report on the preparations and the response to the pandemic in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. She made clear that, to do this properly, will take time and have a significant cost.

"The Inquiry regularly publishes its financial information and we have rigorous governance processes in place to make sure we are delivering value for money when fulfilling the Inquiry’s Terms of Reference."

Liberal Democrat Leader Sir Ed Davey told LBC News "The inquiry is important, we need to learn the lessons... they're very costly... but I worry that the government yet again are doing this incompetently. Everything they do seems to fail and to cost far more than it should"

"The Conservative's failure on Covid whether it's how they managed the pandemic, or now the aftermath, is absolutely terrible, it's shocking. Now they look like they're making mistakes with the inquiry"