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Government refuses to reveal how much money it has spent on Covid tests

Government refuses to reveal how much money it has spent on Covid tests
Minister says the cost of the tests is ‘commercially sensitive’

The government is refusing to say how much public money it has spent on Covid-19 tests – claiming the information iscommercially sensitiveand thus confidential.

The veil of secrecy over the use of taxpayer cash comes amid reports that the ministers are planning to end the distribution of free testing kits.

The stonewalling over how money was spent has raised alarm bells across Westminster because of the extent to which costs have ballooned in other areas – with £37 billion spent on the NHS test and trace scheme over two years.

The claim that information iscommercially sensitiveand therefore must be kept secret comes as question marks also hang over the close relationship between some Covid contractors, Tory donors, and government ministers.

A report by the group Transparency International found that a whole fifth of all Covid-19 contracts awarded by the government contained red flag indicators of possible corruption.

The National Audit Office warned in November 2020 that the government’s approach to contracts haddiminished public transparency” et cela “the lack of adequate documentation means we cannot give assurance that government has adequately mitigated the increased risks arising from emergency procurement or applied appropriate commercial practices in all cases”.

Liberal Democrat Health spokesperson Daisy Cooper said: “The Government wasted billions of taxpayers money on dodgy Covid contracts and a botched test and trace system, but won’t come clean on how much they’ve spent on the very tests that keep people safe.

“This is the public’s money and the public has a right to know — especially now that the Government plans to force people to pay for Covid tests.

“Throughout the pandemic, it’s clear that Conservative ministers have been more interested in helping their wealthy mates than supporting hard-pressed families.

“If we are to live well with Covid, then the public deserves to know how much measures that work actually cost.”

Asked how much had been spent in the financial years 2020-21 et 2021-22 on PCR tests, lateral flow tests, and other testing equipment, health minister Maggie Throup said in a written parliamentary answer:

We are unable to provide the amount spent in the 2020/21 et 2021/22 financial years on the purchases of PCR tests, lateral flow device tests and other Covid-19 testing equipment, as this information is commercially sensitive.

The Department of Health and Social Care was asked to elaborate on its reasoning but has not responded at the time of publication.

Ministers are reportedly preparing to announce the end of free lateral flow home test kits, which will no longer be freely available to all.

They are also thought to be planning to scale back PCR testing. One option being looked at is whether to limit its availability to older adults and people considered to be more clinically vulnerable.