Taxpayers will bear the cost of the Covid pandemic for ‘decades’ to come as bill already at £372bn 

Taxpayers will pay the price of Covid for decades to come with the cost of Government measures already surpassing £370 billion, MPs have warned.  

It comes as two reports from the Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) released on Sunday slammed the Government’s spending on unusable personal protective equipment (PPE).

The reports also warned that an inquiry into the pandemic and its handling by the government – expected next year – will not come quick enough to learn the lessons needed.

The PAC said the taxpayer would be exposed to ‘significant financial risks for decades to come’ – putting the Covid bill to date at £372 billion.

The committee also ‘remains concerned that despite spending over £10 billion on supplies, the PPE stockpile is not fit for purpose’.

It added that as of May this year, out of 32 billion items of PPE ordered by the Department of Health and Social Care, some 11 billion had been distributed, while 12.6 billion remain in storage.

Meanwhile some 8.4 billion on order from other parts of the world have still not arrived to Britain.

The UK debt pile hit £2.2trillion last month - the highest relative to GDP since 1961 - but borrowing started to ease as the economy recovered.

The UK debt pile hit £2.2trillion last month - the highest relative to GDP since 1961 - but borrowing started to ease as the economy recovered.

The UK debt pile hit £2.2trillion last month – the highest relative to GDP since 1961 – but borrowing started to ease as the economy recovered. 

But MPs were concerned the stockpile was costing around £6.7 million a week to store, with potential waste levels ‘unacceptably high’.

The report said there were 10,000 shipping containers of PPE still to be unpacked by May this year, but 2.1 billion items of PPE had already been found unsuitable for use in medical settings.

The committee said this cost more than £2 billion of taxpayers’ money and over five times the estimate of PPE unfit for purpose given to MPs by the DHSC in January of this year.

For the excess PPE that was suitable for medical use, the MPs were concerned that the Government is yet to create any robust plans for repurposing and distributing this essential stock in a way which ensures value for money and protects staff and patients.

Dame Meg Hillier, chairwoman of the Public Accounts Committee, 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.’

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

The PAC report said it was ‘clear that Government cannot wait for the review before learning important lessons’ and must instead present a Covid recovery plan in the autumn spending review.

Dame Meg added: ‘If coronavirus is with us for a long time, the financial hangover could leave future generations with a big headache.’

A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said: ‘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.’

But Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said the cross-party report is more evidence of the Tories’ failures during the pandemic that she says ‘resulted in tens of thousands of avoidable deaths and saw eye-watering sums of taxpayers’ money wasted on unsafe PPE and contracts handed out to their mates’.

‘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,’ she added.

‘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.’

It comes as pressure mounted on the government this week to go further in creating exemptions for certain sectors when it comes to employees having to self-isolate after receiving a ping from the Covid app. 

Underlining the threat this earlier this week, closely-watched PMI figures suggested the economy has drastically slowed down this month - with managers blaming shortages of workers and raw materials

Underlining the threat this earlier this week, closely-watched PMI figures suggested the economy has drastically slowed down this month - with managers blaming shortages of workers and raw materials

Underlining the threat this earlier this week, closely-watched PMI figures suggested the economy has drastically slowed down this month – with managers blaming shortages of workers and raw materials

PMI figures suggested the economy has drastically slowed down this month – with managers blaming absence of workers and shortages of raw materials. Although the index indicated growth continuing, the reading was the lowest since the lockdown started easing in March.

Industry groups complained that the exemption scheme showed ministers did not ‘understand how connected the food supply chain is’ and were ‘worse than useless’ because there is no clarity about who will be covered. Councils said services were at risk from the wave of self-isolation and train timetables are also being cut back.

The UK Hospitality body demanded a ‘more pragmatic solution’, saying even people who are not vaccinated should be able to take tests and keep working.

The row came as owners of some of the country’s largest producers including the UK’s ‘Chicken King’ revealed they are at ‘crisis point’ – with a lack of poultry and milk on supermarket shelves and warnings of the ‘most serious food shortages that this country has seen in over 75 years’.

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