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Public Spending: Value for Money

Volume 732: debated on Tuesday 9 May 2023

As the Minister for public spending, I oversee the Government’s budgeting system, and a key element of that is incentivising Departments to manage spending effectively so that value for taxpayers’ money is maximised. That is why the Government launched an efficiency and savings review at the autumn statement 2022. Through the review, Departments re-prioritised and identified further efficiencies, building on the 5% efficiency challenge set out in the spending review 2021, to better deliver value for money for the taxpayer.

The then Chancellor, now Prime Minister, spent £1.3 million of public money on focus groups, which included asking what the public thought of him. Following the public’s resounding rejection of the Tories in last week’s elections, we now know what the public think of him. Will the Government stop wasting taxpayers’ money to boost the Prime Minister’s ego, do the right thing and call a general election?

Some £7.9 billion was wasted on useless and overpriced personal protective equipment; meanwhile, opportunists who saw the Tories coming are now profiteering on the back of the public purse. Does the Minister regret that this money was not spent wisely? Nearly £8 billion could buy us 20 new hospitals.

Our priority was clear throughout the covid crisis, and that was to get PPE to the frontline as quickly as possible. Due diligence was carried out on all companies that were referred to the Department. Despite all those steps being taken, some instances of fraud did occur with unscrupulous suppliers taking advantage of the situation. This Government take that fraud seriously, and the Department of Health and Social Care is exploring every available option to bring those who commit fraud to account. We have also made a number of other interventions, including investment in the taxpayer protection taskforce to normalise higher compliance activity in HMRC, alongside other measures to deal with fraud elsewhere in some of the emergency schemes that we set up to help this economy and this country get through covid.

Last week, the Public Accounts Committee revealed that our country lost £9 billion-worth of tax revenue during the pandemic because HMRC redeployed 4,000 staff members whose jobs were to chase down tax avoiders. The Prime Minister was Chancellor at the time and presumably signed off that decision. Can the Minister tell me whether the Prime Minister did that as a deliberate act to give the green light to tax avoiders, or is it just another example of Tory incompetence?

I think that is a ridiculous suggestion, to be honest. HMRC received £863 million to modernise the tax system, and that included £136 million invested over the spending period to deliver improvements in terms of a single customer record and account. On what happened over covid, I have already set out the investment we made, including the £100 million in the taxpayer protection taskforce. We take fraud very seriously. Now it is about HMRC looking at financial records of excessive trading to come to terms with those businesses that used some of those schemes fraudulently. We will continue to work on that.