The UK government is undertaking an audit of personal protective equipment (PPE) and will be pursuing suppliers to recoup money where it did not meet requirements.
Health minister Edward Argar told the House of Commons the Department for Health and Social Care had “cancelled or curtailed contracts up to the value of around £400m so far” for a “multitude of reasons” including faulty or inadequate PPE.
Responding to questions on PPE procurement during the coronavirus pandemic, Argar said: “We are undertaking a stocktake and an audit. It is that which is required to assess whether any stockpiles are not fit for purpose or do not meet requirements, or to check what was and was not delivered and make sure that every order was fully fulfilled.
“We have been very clear that, as part of that audit, that stocktake, we will pursue with any who did not meet the requirements or did not supply the goods, the recouping of that money for the public purse.”
In November the National Audit Office said around 1% of PPE – 195m items – bought by the government in response to the coronavirus pandemic was “potentially unsuitable”, representing “hundreds of millions of pounds”.
Rachel Reeves, shadow minister for the Cabinet Office, referred to a court ruling that found health secretary Matt Hancock acted unlawfully by failing to publish PPE contracts and said 100 contracts were still to be disclosed.
“Will the government now finally agree to publish all 100 outstanding contracts by the end of this week?” she said.
Argar replied: “The department has published 100% of the CANs [contract award notices] that it is obliged to publish that are related to this matter.”
Chris Bryant (Lab) told MPs: “The truth is that they set up a VIP track for some people to be able to get massive contracts, and some people enriched themselves phenomenally during this pandemic, many of whom, surprise, surprise, happen to be Conservative party donors.
“I have to say that it looks like corruption, and the only way the government can wipe that slate clean is if they come clean with all the contracts. Otherwise, it just looks like a cover up.”
Argar said there was “no evidence cited and no findings in court of any minister in terms of conflicts of interest or having behaved inappropriately”.
“All those contracts and all assessments of contracts, whichever route they came via, went through the eight-stage process of assessment by independent civil servants who know commerce and know procurement,” he said.
“I would not for a moment cast aspersions on their judgement, and ministers did not determine which contracts were or were not awarded in that context.”
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