Public Accounts Committee warns taxpayer will bear ‘significant financial risks for decades to come’
The government is wasting vast amounts of money PPE that is still “not fit for purpose” a year and a half into the pandemic, an influential committee of MPs has warned.
Official figures show nearly 7 per cent of all items purchased by the health department have failed quality checks while ministers are spending £6.7m every week to keep it stored.
An eye-watering 2.1 billion items have already been found unsuitable for use in medical settings and 10,000 shipping containers are still to be unpacked.
The same committee also warned of “significant financial risks for decades to come”, with the estimated lifetime cost of all the government’s Covid measures reaching £372bn in May 2021.
Dame Meg Hillier, chair of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), said too much of the “eye-watering sums” of cash being spent to combat the pandemic were going to waste.
Labour called for an immediate public inquiry on the findings of the report.
In two separate reports, the committee said that a further 8.4 billion items of PPE on order from other parts of the world have still not arrived in the UK.
And it said the government did not have a credible plan for the excess PPE that was suitable for medical use, with no evidence of a robust plan for repurposing and distributing the stock properly.
Responding to the report, the government said there are “robust processes” in place to ensure taxpayer money is spent properly. It said less than 1 per cent of PPE it had ordered was unsuitable for any use at all, distinguishing between its suitability for medical use and other uses.
Dame Meg said: “The ongoing risk to the taxpayer will run for 20 years on things like arts and culture recovery loans, let alone the other new risks that departments across Government must quickly learn to manage.”
The government has promised a public inquiry into the pandemic, but it is not expected to start until spring next year.
The PAC report said it was “clear that government cannot wait for the review before learning important lessons” and must instead present a Covid recovery plan in the autumn spending review.
Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said the cross-party report was more evidence of Tory failure during the pandemic.
She said their approach had “resulted in tens of thousands of avoidable deaths and saw eye-watering sums of taxpayers’ money wasted on unsafe PPE and contracts handed out to their mates”.
“We cannot wait until next year for the public inquiry to start and ministers cannot kick it into the long grass and cover up their failures by refusing to hand over information hidden in personal email accounts,” she added.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “There are robust processes in place to ensure that government spending always provides value for money for the taxpayer.
“We have worked tirelessly to source life-saving PPE to protect health and care staff, and we have delivered over 12.7 billion items to the frontline at record speed. As the National Audit Office has recognised, all NHS providers they spoke to were able to get the equipment they needed in time.”