Taxpayers will be paying costs of pandemic for decades - with Covid bill already at £372bn

By Claire Schofield
Sunday, 25th July 2021, 12:05 pm
12.6 billion PPE items are stored in the UK as central stock, which costs around £6.7 million per week (Photo: Getty Images)
12.6 billion PPE items are stored in the UK as central stock, which costs around £6.7 million per week (Photo: Getty Images)

Taxpayers will still be paying the costs of the Covid pandemic for decades to come, with the bill already at £372 billion.

The figure, calculated by the Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC), is three times higher than public spending watchdogs estimated last year, and is twice the amount raised in income tax annually.

What has been spent?

The PAC criticised the government’s spending on unusable personal protective equipment (PPE) and said a public inquiry due to be held next year was not soon enough to fix some issues.

As of May 2021, only 11 billion items of PPE out of the 32 billion ordered by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) had been distributed, while 8.4 billion items on order from other parts of the world have still not arrived in the UK.

A total of 12.6 billion PPE items are stored in the UK as central stock, which costs around £6.7 million per week to store, while 10,000 shipping containers of PPE were still to be unpacked by May this year.

More than £10billion was wasted on PPE for frontline NHS staff that was “not fit for purpose,” with 2.1 billion items found unsuitable for use in medical settings. This equates to more than £2 billion of taxpayers’ money and five times the estimate of PPE unfit for purpose given to the committee by the DHSC in January.

England’s Test and Trace system failed to make a “measurable difference” to the spread of coronavirus, despite £23 billion being spent on it, an earlier report by the PAC claimed.

The PAC warned that taxpayers would be faced with “significant financial risks for decades to come”, on top of the £372 spend on fighting the pandemic so far.

The committee also expressed concerns that the government is yet to put any robust plans in place for repurposing and distributing the excess PPE that was suitable for medical use in a way which ensures value for money, and protects staff and patients.

Dame Meg Hillier, chairwoman of the PAC said: “With eye-watering sums of money spent on Covid measures so far, the government needs to be clear, now, how this will be managed going forward, and over what period of time.

“The ongoing risk to the taxpayer will run for 20 years on things like arts and culture recovery loans, let alone the other new risks that departments across government must quickly learn to manage.”

“If coronavirus is with us for a long time, the financial hangover could leave future generations with a big headache.”

A public inquiry will start in spring

A public inquiry into the pandemic has been planned, although it is not expected to start until spring next year and will likely be long-running.

The PAC report warned that the government “cannot wait for the review before learning important lessons” and must instead present a Covid recovery plan in the autumn spending review.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman responded: “There are robust processes in place to ensure that government spending always provides value for money for the taxpayer.

“We have worked tirelessly to source life-saving PPE to protect health and care staff, and we have delivered over 12.7 billion items to the frontline at record speed.”

However, Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said the cross-party report is more evidence of the Tories’ failures during the pandemic and called for the enquiry to start immediately.

She said: “We cannot wait until next year for the public inquiry to start and ministers cannot kick it into the long grass and cover up their failures by refusing to hand over information hidden in personal email accounts.

“The public inquiry must start immediately and the inquiry must have full access to all ministerial correspondence, contracts and documents, including all government business carried out on personal email accounts.”

This article originally appeared on our sister site, NationalWorld.