Taxpayers to bear cost of Covid for decades to come, MPs warn

Taxpayers to face Covid bill for decades to come, MPs warn Credit: PA

Taxpayers will be exposed to “significant financial risks for decades to come” because of the Covid-19 pandemic, MPs have warned as they said the public inquiry will not come quickly enough to fix some issues.

The Commons Public Accounts Committee, in two reports released on Sunday, slammed the government's spending on unusable personal protective equipment (PPE) and estimated the cost of Covid had reached £372 billion.

The committee said it “remains concerned that despite spending over £10 billion on supplies, the PPE stockpile is not fit for purpose”.

The committee voiced concern that the PPE stockpile ‘is not fit for purpose’ Credit: PA

Out of 32 billion items of PPE ordered by the Department of Health and Social Care, as of May this year, about 11 billion had been distributed.

And about 12.6 billion are being stored. But the report said this stock was costing around £6.7 million a week to store, with potential waste levels “unacceptably high”.

MPs said there were 10,000 shipping containers of PPE that were not yet unpacked, but 2.1 billion items of PPE had already been found unsuitable for use in medical settings.

The committee said this cost more than £2 billion of taxpayers’ money and the number was more than five times the estimate of PPE unfit for purpose given to MPs by DHSC in January 2021.

Some 8.4 billion PPE items ordered from other parts of the world have still not arrived in the UK.

Dame Meg Hillier, chairwoman of the Public Accounts Committee, said: “With eye-watering sums of money spent on Covid measures so far, the government needs to be clear, now, how this will be managed going forward, and over what period of time.

“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.”

She added: “If coronavirus is with us for a long time, the financial hangover could leave future generations with a big headache.”

A public inquiry into the coronavirus pandemic is not expected to start until spring next year, and will likely take a long time to complete.

The committee said it was “clear that the government cannot wait for the review before learning important lessons” and should instead present a Covid recovery plan in the autumn spending review.

(PA Graphics) Credit: PA Graphics

A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman responded: “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.”

Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner responded to the cross-party report, saying the government's mistakes “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”.

She continued: “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.

“The public inquiry must start immediately and the inquiry must have full access to all ministerial correspondence, contracts and documents, including all government business carried out on personal email accounts.”