A powerful panel of MPs said today that taxpayers will be left facing “significant financial risks for decades to come” due to levels of emergency government spending on the pandemic, which totals more than £370 billion.
In two separate reports, the all-party Public Accounts Committee (PAC) paints a harrowing picture of the lasting financial strain caused by the first 16 months of fighting Covid-19, and says the government should not wait until the official investigation is over to find out. Lessons what went wrong.
MPs say that by March of this year, the permanent cost of the government’s bailout measures had reached £372bn, government-backed loans had risen, and taxpayers were left ‘on the hook’ for an estimated £26bn in credit losses and fraud. from recoil. Back loan program for small and medium enterprises alone.
While Boris Johnson has promised, a public inquiry into the handling of Covid-19 will not start until next spring and will take years to complete, leaving the prime minister open to accusations that he wants to avoid revealing the truth before the next general. election.
However, the PAC says that the national interest requires that many shortcomings be understood and acknowledged much sooner. The MPs say it is clear that the government cannot wait for the review before learning the important lessons.
They expect ministers to “develop a full-cost pandemic recovery plan” at their fall spending review, along with a comprehensive framework for managing fiscal risks arising from the Covid-19 response.
The committee also highlights concerns about the government’s preparedness to combat Covid-19 and other diseases in the future, saying it “remains concerned that despite spending more than £10 billion on supplies, the stockpile of PPE is not fit for purpose”.
By listing the issues, MPs found that as of May, 32 billion pieces of PPE had been ordered by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC). But only 11 billion of those have been distributed so far, while 12.6 billion are stored in the UK as central stock, and 8.4 billion orders from other parts of the world have yet to reach the UK.
The stock costs DHSC about £6.7m a week to store, PAC says, with waste being “unacceptably high”. As of May, 10,000 shipping containers of PPE were still required to be unloaded in 2020, and 2.1 billion items were found unsuitable for use in medical settings.
Meg Heller, chair of the Anti-Corruption Commission, said: “With the sums spent on Covid measures so far, the government needs to be clear, now, how this will be managed in the future, and over what period of time.
“The ongoing risk to taxpayers will continue for 20 years on things like arts and culture recovery loans, not to mention other new risks that departments across government must learn to manage quickly. In addition to monitoring procurement and its effectiveness over the next few years, the PAC will monitor this spending and risk For decades to come. If the coronavirus is with us for that long, the financial hangover could leave future generations with a major headache.”
While examining the efficiency of the government’s response, the PAC highlights serious staffing problems within the NHS, which the pandemic has focused on. The service was already struggling with 40,000 nurses and 9,000 medical staff vacancies before the first shutdown in March last year. By September, six months later, more than a third of the remaining nurses were considering leaving.
The report warns that with the “ongoing stress” on the health and social care workforce, patient waiting times have continued to increase and waiting lists for non-urgent treatment have grown exponentially, stoking huge challenges for the future.