MPs slam ministers over 'waste, loss and fraud' in Covid response

MPs slam ministers over ‘mistakes, waste, loss and fraud’ in £370BILLION Covid response warning the country will be paying for decades

  • Public Accounts Committee has blasted Government over Covid response errors
  • PAC’s Meg Hillier said there was an ‘unacceptable level of mistakes, waste, loss’
  • Committee told Rishi Sunak he must set out how much Covid cash will be lost

PAC chairwoman, Dame Meg Hillier, said a ‘lack of preparedness and planning’ had led to ‘an unacceptable level of mistakes, waste, loss and openings for fraudsters’

An influential committee of MPs has slammed the Government over its financial response to the coronavirus pandemic, warning that billions of pounds of money has been lost because of ‘unacceptable’ mistakes. 

The Public Accounts Committee today published a new report which is highly critical of Chancellor Rishi Sunak and the Treasury. 

PAC chairwoman, Dame Meg Hillier, said a ‘lack of preparedness and planning’ had led to ‘an unacceptable level of mistakes, waste, loss and openings for fraudsters’. 

This will ‘end up robbing current and future taxpayers of billions of pounds’, she said.  

It is currently uncertain exactly how much Covid cash will be lost but the PAC said it will be ‘running into many billions of pounds’. 

The PAC said fraud and error across the support schemes run by HMRC, the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is expected to cost ‘at least £15 billion’.

The furlough scheme is estimated to have lost £5.3billion to fraud and error – 8.7 per cent of the overall funding handed out by the programme. 

It is also estimated that some £21billion will be lost as a result of Covid loans not being repaid.  

The Public Accounts Committee today published a new report which is highly critical of Chancellor Rishi Sunak and the Treasury

The National Audit Office said the cost of the Government’s pandemic measures will hit a total of £370billion over their lifetime.

Dame Meg said: ‘As the PAC has made clear across a series of reports on the costs of Covid, lack of preparedness and planning, combined with weaknesses in existing systems across Government, have led to an unacceptable level of mistakes, waste, loss and openings for fraudsters which will all end up robbing current and future taxpayers of billions of pounds.

‘It is essential that for as long as we will be paying the costs of Covid19, which is at least the next 20 years just in some of the loan repayment terms, the Treasury and all of Government continue to account specifically for what it has spent in response to the pandemic. 

‘Government must be held accountable in this way to all the future taxpayers who will be paying for this response. Crucially this must ensure lessons are learned for when the next big crisis hits – be it climate, health or financial.’

The PAC is calling for all Whitehall departments to set out the specific annual cost of Covid in the years ahead.  

It has also told the Treasury to provide MPs with official estimates of how much taxpayers’ cash has been lost to fraud and error, and how much the Government expects to recover.

The Government threw billions of pounds at Covid support schemes in the early days of the pandemic, as Mr Sunak vowed to do whatever it takes to get through the crisis. 

A Treasury spokesman said: ‘We reject the claims made in this report. No fraudulent payments have been written off and the Taxpayer Protection Taskforce is expected to recover up to £1bn from fraudulent or incorrect payments.

‘Our Covid support schemes were rolled out at a time of national crisis, protecting millions of jobs and businesses when they needed it most.

‘Thanks to the speed and scale of our intervention, the economy is back to pre-pandemic levels.

‘The cost of inaction could have had a catastrophic impact on jobs and livelihoods.’

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