1) The Covid-19 outbreak is a Public Health Emergency of International Concern as declared by the World Health Organisation on 30 January 2020. The WHO Director-General characterised Covid-19 as a pandemic on 11 March 2020. As of 6 April 2020, scientific knowledge regarding the disease and its transmission was still emerging, however the WHO advised that Covid-19 transmission can occur via ‘infective respiratory droplets’ and wearing a mask represented one prevention measure that can limit the spread of viral diseases such as Covid-19.
2) In April 2020 the UK did not possess any face covering manufacturing capability and was reliant on securing supplies from overseas producers. Problems were experienced in obtaining reliable supplies of medical PPE-grade masks in a global market due to increased global demand and the disruption to the supply chain caused by the pandemic. There was a concern that insufficient volumes of non-medical masks would become available or, if available, they would be of inferior quality or charged at exorbitant prices.
3) In May 2020 Cabinet Office (CO) considered it crucial in the public interest to source initial supplies of face covering raw materials as part of a wider face coverings programme in order to secure the UK’s domestic manufacturing capacity to:
(a) produce medical grade masks immediately (if necessary);
(b) create an immediate and reliable supply of high-quality non-medical face coverings at affordable prices for the domestic market; and
(c) create national resilience to supply chain shocks within a global market.
This was because in April 2020 there was a considerable shortage of medical and non-medical PPE globally, there was real fear that items available would be impounded at borders so domestic production was urgently required to mitigate the impact of Covid-19.
4) In May 2020 CO purchased 10 non-automated production machinery lines (see CAN 141-348171). This was followed later by the purchase of automated production machinery lines (see CAN 2020-S/1430352966). In light of the urgent requirement to place the machinery with identified producers as soon as practicable and to commence their prompt operation, the CO also procured 13 weeks’ supply of the necessary raw materials to enable the immediate domestic production of non-medical face coverings. Due to the heightened international demand for raw materials utilised in the production of face masks/coverings, the long lead times, and the price volatility in the global market due to Covid-19, the CO procured the raw materials in order for them to be immediately available to the domestic producers. Waiting for the identified producers to be appointed and then for them to procure the raw materials individually would have caused delays of up to a month to the production commencement date, which would have severely impacted HMG’s effort to stimulate the urgent production of face coverings for the domestic market.
5) An accelerated PCR procurement was impossible if the supplies of raw materials were to be available in sufficient quantities in time for the domestic production of face coverings to commence. Any delay caused by having to engage the market through an open competition or restricted procedure ran the risk of failing to secure the necessary raw materials in the required timeframe (given the international demand for such materials and the lead times involved in procuring them). That would have caused knock-on delays to other aspects of the Face Coverings Programme, such as the manufacturers commencing production of the face coverings and their ability to produce sufficient volumes for the anticipated domestic demand, which would undermine HMG efforts to mitigate Covid-19 risks in the UK.
6) CO is satisfied the tests permitting use of the urgent direct award procedure (Regulation 32(2)(c)) t as set out in section VI 1.3) (Additional Information) above are met.