Kent Police awarded contracts worth £1.9m for preventative equipment for the force during the coronavirus pandemic without going through a competitive tendering process.
The contracts were awarded to a string of companies, including one in Hamburg, under emergency procedures that permits the purchase of goods or services where they are needed urgently.
In common with many other organisations, notably the NHS, Kent Police faced a rising need for protective equipment as the pandemic took grip. Under normal procurement rules, that would have required an open tendering process lasting several weeks to assess bids taking account of value for money.
The force invoked an exemption allowing it to award contracts to suppliers where goods or services are required “so urgently that competition is impracticable, such as when an operational need arises which requires immediate action.”
Details of the contracts were released following a request made by KentOnline under the Freedom of Information Act.
It shows that the force awarded contracts that together were worth £2,578,310 without going out to tender over the last two years.
The force said it needed to act quickly to ensure its staff, particularly frontline employees, had protection against exposure to the virus.
In a statement, director of support services, Mark Gilmartin said: "It was important that at the start of the pandemic we acquired personal protective equipment (PPE) quickly, to keep officers, staff and the public safe.
"This included items such as anti-bacterial handwash, overalls, face coverings and other necessary equipment, which we procured in line with other forces and continue to use as part of our safety practices within the force.”
"We established a PPE Task Force in order to source the urgent requirement for this equipment. Inevitably this circumvented the normal processes but was explicitly agreed and authorised as appropriate under the circumstances.”
The costs were recovered from the government.
Other contracts awarded without tendering included £62,650 to consultants advising the force on wide-ranging plans for more flexible working and the rationalisation of its offices.
This includes a proposal to sell off its Sutton Road headquarters in Maidstone, which the force has been based at since 1940 but it is no longer providing the “best possible value for money.”
Another contract was awarded to the company that provides the police with IT support to its system for recording information - known as Athena.
A contract valued at £90,000 for what is described as its lead technical support services was awarded to PGIT Limited.
Other contracts included £103,000 to uniform suppliers; £100,000 to Amelix, a Whitstable-based company commissioned to visit schools to deliver workshops to support young people, reduce victimisation, exploitation and offending.
Mr Gilmartin said: "There are several reasons why Kent Police may on occasion award a contract to a company without carrying out the full tendering process.
"Companies the force have already worked with could be retained for quality and continuity purposes and a business may be employed to carry out work that is of a sensitive nature, where going out to tender and revealing classified information to the public is not an option.
"In some instances there are only certain suppliers and products that are appropriately accredited and vetted for police use.”
"In an operational environment, a 24/7 emergency service will sometimes have incredibly urgent requirements that have to be met at short notice, whilst relatively rare these situations do arise from time to time and it may be that an organisation is the only one with the specialist skills or tools needed to carry out the work required urgently.”