Ministers have been accused of making a “pathetic attempt” to waste taxpayers’ money on bogus Covid contracts, as it emerged that only a fraction of the estimated total amount had so far been recovered.
£18m has been recovered through the Department of Health and Social Care’s investigation into personal protective equipment (PPE) contracts identified as “high risk” and through “contract management”, The Guardian can reveal .
Health Minister Will Quince said the figure was correct as of 12 December, and insisted the government was working to “prevent the damage”. However, the amount of money refunded to taxpayers is far less than the amount lost through PPE fraud.
By January 2022, DHSC said it had spent £12.6 billion on PPE. It is estimated that up to 5% of this may involve fraud or error – worth £630 million.
The Public Accounts Committee, which scrutinizes the value for money of government spending, also said that £3.9 billion of stockpile of goods was not needed. It said there were disputes with more than 100 suppliers over a £2.7bn stock – mostly over concerns about the quality of PPE provided.
Daisy Cooper, health spokeswoman for the Liberal Democrats, gave written questions to Quince, revealing the amount received so far. She criticized the government for “getting away billions” on useless PPE, and claimed the £18m figure was “a damning indictment” of the Conservatives’ record on “dodgy Covid contracts”.
Cooper said: “These pathetic attempts to recover lost money are adding insult to injury. Conservative ministers stepping up efforts to recover money wasted on Covid contracts handed over to their wealthy friends and donors during the pandemic needed.
It is understood the Lib Dems are planning to amend the upcoming procurement bill, whose second reading will take place on 9 January, to ban “VIP lanes” through which contracts were awarded directly to some firms.
Cooper said the move would “prevent this staggering waste of public money from happening again” by stopping preferential treatment in government procurement processes being given to organizations and individuals recommended by MPs and peers.
VIP lane usage has come under renewed scrutiny after it was revealed Michelle Monáe and her children secretly received £29 million from the profits of a business called PPE MedproWhich was given big government contracts and kept in the VIP lane after recommending it to ministers.
DHSC said: “We continue to sell, donate, reuse and recycle excess PPE in the most cost-effective way, as well as recovering costs from suppliers wherever possible to ensure taxpayer value for money.” Let’s demand
“We are also exploring innovative solutions to reprocess excess PPE into materials or new products that have further uses.”
The department also said it had prevented £139m of fraud caused by the introduction of additional checks.
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