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Public Spending: Value for Money

Volume 742: debated on Tuesday 19 December 2023

Value for money is at the heart of Government spending and it is one of the key considerations for any decision involving the use of public funds across Government. As Chief Secretary, I am committed to tackling waste and promoting productivity across the public sector.

Last year, Government officials admitted that they were paying companies to burn and destroy 15,000 pallets of unusable personal protective equipment each month. Does the Treasury have any idea how much wasted PPE has gone up in smoke this year?

During the pandemic our priority was absolutely clear: to get PPE to the frontline as quickly as possible. There was an unprecedented global increase in demand for PPE during the emergency response to the pandemic and items were procured at pace. The Department of Health and Social Care continues to seek to recover fraud losses to ensure that public funds are protected.

Throughout the pandemic, people across the country made extraordinary and heart-wrenching sacrifices, yet as they did so, a small minority were instead making millions of pounds by ripping off the taxpayer. With conflicts of interest, defective goods and exorbitant profit margins, it has been greedy and grubby and this Conservative Government have enabled it all. As taxpayers, we want our money back, so Labour will create a covid corruption commissioner to chase down every pound we can. Does the Minister have any idea just how angry people are that our country has been taken for a ride?

The hypocrisy is absolutely astonishing. During the pandemic the shadow Chancellor wrote that the strategy of turning to big-name UK manufacturers was not delivering the supply that was needed. Yes, we procured things very fast—we needed to do that to get things to the frontline—and we are trying to get back every single penny that was lost to fraud, but we make no apology for doing whatever we could to get PPE to the frontline as quickly as possible.

The Minister’s response really does not reflect the seriousness of the situation. This is not just one bad apple; this is a rotten culture that goes to the very top, with £8.7 billion lost on wasted PPE and £7.2 billion lost to covid fraud. That is £15.9 billion of public money gone at a time when people and public services are struggling. Can the Minister remind the House who was Chancellor at the time that all of this was signed off?

I do not know what more I can add to my last answer. This was done very quickly, at pace, because we were desperate to get PPE to the frontline as quickly as possible. We have set up initiatives to recoup money from fraudulent activity including the Public Sector Fraud Authority, which has already saved taxpayers £311 million in the first year of operation.