Skip to main content

Covid-19 Contracts

Volume 711: debated on Thursday 31 March 2022

2. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the need to ensure value for money in the award of covid-19 contracts. (906411)

Her Majesty’s Government’s priority throughout the pandemic has been to protect the lives and livelihoods of citizens across the United Kingdom. We have been clear from the outset that all contracts, including those designed to tackle coronavirus issues, must continue to achieve value for money for taxpayers and use good commercial judgment, and that the details of any awards made should be published in line with Government transparency guidelines.

According to the National Audit Office investigation into the management of PPE contracts, billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money is still at risk. Between March 2020 and October 2021, it cost £737 million to store excess PPE, and costs are currently £7 million per month. Over half the VIP suppliers provided PPE that the Department of Health and Social Care considers unsuitable for frontline services; in addition, some 1.5 billion items of PPE are currently in storage and expected to expire before they can be distributed. What is being done to understand the governance issues around this and the cost of that waste? How will that be reported to the House?

The Government were facing an emergency. PPE was needed immediately. It was obviously right to order more than was necessary—that was fundamental. At the beginning of the pandemic, nobody knew precisely how much would be needed, but we knew we needed supplies. The Government succeeded in getting domestic production, excluding gloves, up from 1% to 70%.[Official Report, 26 April 2022, Vol. 712, c. 7MC.]

The hon. Gentleman refers to 50% of suppliers having something faulty: all that means is that in a shipment that may have been of tonnes of PPE, one item was faulty. It does not mean that 50% of the items received were faulty. That is a fundamental error that people have been making in deliberately misunderstanding what the National Audit Office has said. Our duty was to get PPE in quickly. That was done properly, professionally and to the benefit of the nation.

The Minister talks about value for money, yet we know that the Government handed hundreds of millions of pounds of our money to an offshore company involving a Tory peer, created just days before and without any transparency, that sold Government PPE at three times the price it had bought it for. It is now in mediation because the PPE was not even fit for use. Millions of items are now stuck in storage, costing us even more.

The Government refuse even now to reveal what they know about the company in question, and our letters to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster go unanswered. Perhaps the Minister will answer this: when will we finally get the promised procurement Bill? What safeguards will be in it to stop yet more public money from being wasted and to end the so-called emergency bypassing of procurement regulations?

This is a classic socialist point of view—that we should not have done anything to get PPE in urgently and, to go to the hon. Lady’s earlier question, that we should have just sat comfortably upon our hands and allowed PPE not to be provided around the country. The Government got on with doing the job that was necessary, and of course they ensure value for money. Let anyone who has overcharged us be in no doubt: we are after them.