Billions nonetheless in danger from Covid PPE contracts, says spending watchdog

Greater than £2bn of British taxpayers’ cash remains to be in danger from contracts for protecting gear rapidly concluded on the peak of the pandemic, principally stemming from the availability of substandard items, in accordance with an impartial spending watchdog.

The Nationwide Audit Workplace mentioned the UK well being division was managing 176 contracts “the place it believes it could not obtain full worth for cash”. In about two-thirds of the disputed orders, the primary motive was the standard of the merchandise provided.

The remaining disputes have been the results of a spread of points together with expired merchandise and PPE not being delivered, the auditors mentioned. The division anticipated fraud and error to account for between 0.5 per cent and 5 per cent of PPE expenditure, it added.

The velocity and the dimensions of presidency procurement throughout Covid has highlighted the challenges ministers face in avoiding waste when spending massive sums of taxpayer cash as they step up measures to counter public sector fraud.

The federal government’s poor document was uncovered in January when Lord Theodore Agnew, the counter-fraud minister, resigned, saying he was “incapable” of doing his job correctly and felt unable to defend what had occurred on his watch.

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Gareth Davies, head of the NAO, mentioned The Division of Well being and Social Care was “nonetheless coping with the outcomes of its emergency procurement choices, some two years after it first wanted to quickly purchase PPE in unprecedented circumstances”. An estimated £2.7bn remained in danger, he added.

Nevertheless, Jacob Rees-Mogg, authorities effectivity minister, claimed on Tuesday that the federal government had saved £3.4bn final 12 months by effectivity financial savings and bearing down on fraud. He claimed losses from “fraud and debt” had been lower by £1.8bn.

DHSC had to date spent £12.6bn of the overall £13.1bn it anticipated to spend on virtually 38bn gadgets of PPE, the NAO mentioned. The division estimated about 3.9bn gadgets — roughly 10 per cent of the overall bought — have been now not wanted.

An extra 3.6bn gadgets have been “thought-about not at the moment appropriate for frontline providers”, whereas some 1.5bn gadgets have been “estimated by DHSC to have handed their expiry date and due to this fact unable to be distributed”, it added.

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Meg Hillier, chair of the general public accounts committee, described the numbers as “staggering”. “Storage alone has value over £700mn, with DHSC persevering with to spend £7mn a month storing PPE it doesn’t want,” she mentioned.

The division, mentioned Hillier, “should urgently get a grip of its PPE shares and give attention to defending worth for taxpayers. It has to claw again contract prices the place it may, eliminate unusable PPE, and lower down on costly storage”.

Angela Rayner, deputy chief of the opposition Labour social gathering, slammed “the newest shameful chapter within the authorities’s cocktail of sleaze and incompetence”. 

Rees-Mogg mentioned £138mn of fraudulent PPE contracts had been terminated however he admitted that he wanted to “speed up” progress in rooting out fraud and waste.

Individually Simon Clarke, the Treasury minister accountable for public spending, promised a “quiet revolution” to save cash, warning that if colleagues needed to spend extra, they must discover financial savings first.

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He set out an ambition to chop the civil service headcount to the place it was “earlier than the extraordinary occasions of the final 5 years”, a reference to Brexit and the pandemic.

The federal government has arrange a brand new public sector fraud authority to enhance public sector procurement, whereas a brand new ministerial committee, chaired by chancellor Rishi Sunak, has been tasked with discovering £5.5bn of effectivity financial savings.

Responding to the NAO’s findings, DHSC mentioned it had delivered greater than 19.1bn gadgets of PPE to frontline workers. “Having an excessive amount of PPE was preferable to having too little within the face of an unpredictable and harmful virus, given this was important to maintain our NHS open and defend as many individuals as attainable”, it mentioned.

The place contracts have been in dispute, “we’re searching for to get better prices from suppliers and we count on to get better vital quantities of taxpayers’ cash,” it added.

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