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Welsh Government spending over £60,000 a year with Amazon and Uber, despite ethical procurement pledge

04 May 2021 4 minutes Read
Left, First Minister Mark Drakeford. Photo by CPMR licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. Right, Amazon’s Swansea warehouse.

The Welsh Government is spending over £60,000 a year with Amazon and Uber, research by Nation.Cymru has found following the First Minister’s pledge to spend public money only with ethical companies.

An analysis of the latest Welsh Government procurement card spending records found that over £51,000 of orders were placed with Amazon between March 2020 and April 2019, while civil servants used Uber for journeys worth over £12,000 during the same period.

Both companies have been heavily criticised for their record on workers’ rights, which Welsh Labour has promised to improve through an ethical procurement law if it wins Thursday’s elections.

Plaid Cymru said it “looks like another depressing example of Labour saying one thing then doing another.”

The Welsh Government has issued some 185 procurement cards to civil servants for paying for relatively low-cost expenses like flights, hotels or office equipment worth around £1.5 million pounds over a year.

That includes dozens of purchases each month for goods, ranging from stationary to furniture, with Amazon which has been accused by trade unions of treating staff at its Swansea warehouse “like robots” and last month waged a successful campaign to stop its workers in the US from unionising.

Meanwhile, Uber is one of the most frequently used transport options by the Welsh Government despite its refusal to recognise its drivers as employees, giving them the right to the minimum wage, holiday pay or pensions.

Mick Antinow, the former Counsel General of the Welsh Government and Labour candidate for Pontypridd, said Uber had “developed a race to the bottom in taxi services.”

Procurement card data also reveals civil servants have also shunned regulated taxis in favour of Lyft, a competitor of Uber run along the same lines. McDonalds, Starbucks and Ryanair are among other controversial companies who have received public money through use of the cards.

‘Buy local’

Welsh Labour’s manifesto includes a pledge to introduce a Social Partnership bill during the next parliament which it says would “improve workers’ rights, drive up the quality of jobs and public services, and strengthen the economy.”

“The bill will establish a new legal framework to enable us to use public procurement in the Welsh government and the public sector to achieve better socio-economic outcomes and ethical employment practices,” Mark Drakeford explained in an article for Labour List.

“Companies receiving public money will need to show they are ethical and socially responsible.”

Helen Mary Jones, Plaid Cymru’s economy spokesperson and Llanelli candidate, said the Welsh Government’s spending data appeared “inconsistent” with Labour’s stated aims.

“Why Uber when there are local taxi firms that could do with the business, including in Cardiff the driver owned cooperative, Drive?” said Mary Jones who vowed to support the ‘buy local’ movement and independent businesses if she is elected.

“The purchases from Amazon are for a broad range of products – were there no local businesses that could have supplied and delivered?

“On the surface this looks like another depressing example of Labour saying one thing then doing another. Wales deserves better and needs to elect a new Welsh Government on May 6.”

‘Regular audit’

The Welsh Government has previously been criticised for use of its procurement cards after the Wales Audit Office found civil servants had used them to make purchases in shops like Toys r Us and Victoria’s Secret.

At the time, a Welsh Government spokesperson said: “The use of procurement cards is common across all central government departments in the United Kingdom. They are an efficient way of ordering and paying for small-value goods and services, and reduce administration costs.

“Procurement cards also provide flexibility, particularly when staff are travelling and last-minute costs need to be incurred.

“All purchases made on procurement cards are reviewed and approved retrospectively by line managers, and subject to regular audit. As a result of our rigorous internal audit processes, we are content that transactions are in line with Welsh government business objectives.”

The Welsh Government has reduced the number of staff authorised to use the cards over the last decade. There were more than 200 procurement cards in use in 2012, compared to 185 this year.

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