In a report published this week, the public accounts committee has identified “significant failings” in the management of PPE contracts that could lead to a £2.7 billion bill for taxpayers.
The department of health and social care (DHSC) remains in dispute with many suppliers it entered into contracts with over the quality of the PPE provided and accepts that some surplus stock will end up being incinerated.
MPs say there is little sign of the government taking action against potentially fraudulent suppliers despite DHSC’s estimate that as much as 5 per cent of PPE expenditure may have involved fraud.
The committee concludes that “suppliers and intermediaries are likely to have made excessive profits while providing substandard PPE”.
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They say insufficient due diligence checks prior to many contract agreements have left the DHSC “paralysed” from acting in some cases. Disputes with suppliers on 176 PPE contracts worth up to £2.7 billion are still to be settled.
The DHSC spent more than £13 billion sourcing PPE during the pandemic but has since failed to set up a system to catalogue equipment, currently spread across 70 locations in the UK as well as in China.
MPs warn that the government cannot assume that a rapid procurement on this scale will not be required again and urge more robust and transparent practices to be put in place.
PAC chair Dame Meg Hillier MP said upon the report’s publication: “The departure from normal approaches to due diligence, record keeping, decision making and accountability in relation to PPE contracts puts a stain on the UK’s response to the pandemic.
“Even if you accept that some proper procedure will have to slip in times of crisis, the complete collapse of some of the most well-established civil service practices beggars belief. The taxpayer will be paying for these decisions for years to come.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson told Politics.co.uk: “Our priority throughout the pandemic has been saving lives. Despite massive inflation in prices and unprecedented global demand, we delivered over 21.4 billion items of PPE to frontline staff to keep them safe, with only 3 per cent of the PPE we procured unusable in any context.
“It is simply wrong to suggest that the department does not know how much PPE it has, or where it is located. We have a comprehensive data system in place to allow us to oversee the storage network and dispose of any excess stock.
“The department also takes fraud extremely seriously and is exploring every available option – including working with law enforcement partners – to bring those who commit fraud to account and seek to recover losses.”
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