The Labour Party has challenged the Tories over the amount of taxpayer money wasted buying unusable personal protective equipment (PPE) in the pandemic after the government admitted it bought 184 million items not fit for purpose.
Reacting to a response from the Cabinet Office to the National Audit Office (NAO) report examining the procurement of public contracts during the Covid crisis, the party stressed that there is an “urgent need for transparency”.
A Labour spokesperson said: “In attempting to rebut the NAO’s startling findings, the Cabinet Office have accidentally shone a light on their mishandling of PPE procurement.
“As the NAO’s report made clear, there is an urgent need for transparency so the government can be properly held to account for their use of the public’s money.
“When so many frontline workers were left without necessary PPE at the start of the pandemic, the Tories need to come clean on exactly how much has been wasted because of their incompetence and what they are doing to stop this happening again.”
The Cabinet Office had said in its response to the report published by the NAO this morning that the government purchased 36.4 billion items of PPE so far and that “0.5% of products bought have not met our high clinical standards”.
It had previously emerged that the Conservative administration had wasted £150m of taxpayer money after it signed a contract with private equity company Ayanda Capital earlier this year for unusable face masks.
The call for transparency from Labour followed Prime Minister’s Questions this afternoon, during which Keir Starmer highlighted the answer from the Cabinet Office and accused Boris Johnson of “spraying public money at contracts”.
The Labour leader added: “Will the Prime Minister finally get his priorities right, stop wasting taxpayers money and give police officers, firefighters, care workers and other key workers the pay rise they so obviously deserve?”
His challenge to the Prime Minister preceded the spending review delivered by Rishi Sunak shortly afterwards, in which he announced the expected pay freeze for public sector workers and a reduction in the planned rise to the minimum wage.
Responding to the spending review, Anneliese Dodds highlighted reckless government spending on Covid contracts during the health crisis, pointing out that Tory failure to stockpile PPE before the crisis cost the taxpayer £10bn.
Commenting on the decision to freeze public sector pay, the Shadow Chancellor argued: “Many key workers who willingly took on so much responsibility during this crisis, are now being forced to tighten their belts.”
She added: “In contrast there’s been a bonanza for those who have won contracts from this government… This waste and mismanagement is part of a longer-term pattern.”
Dodds went on to highlight examples of failed promises from the Conservatives, including pledges to build new hospitals and ‘starter homes’ across the country, deliver the Northern Powerhouse Rail and modernise the courts.
An NAO report earlier this month found that half of all Covid contracts, worth £10.5bn, have been handed out without a competitive tender process and that applicants with political contacts were ten times more likely to be successful.
The call from Labour also follows reports from the Good Law Project that special pathways outside of the normal procurement process were set up at the height of the pandemic to help “VIPs” win lucrative government contracts for PPE.