The UK government is in “commercial discussions potentially leading to litigation” concerning 40 personal protective equipment (PPE) contracts worth £1.2bn.
Health minister Lord James Bethell said the 40 contracts covered 1.7bn items of PPE that were substandard or not delivered.
The Good Law Project, a campaign group, claimed the contracts represented 10% of total PPE spend.
Founder Jolyon Maugham said: “I suspect that even this 10 per cent figure is a grave underestimate of the scale of waste induced by government’s insistence on contracting with associates of ministers.”
In November 2020 the National Audit Office (NAO) said the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) spent £12.5bn on 32bn items of PPE between February and July 2020.
The NAO calculated around 1% of PPE bought by the government was unsuitable but in June 2021 the Public Accounts Committee said this figure was in fact 6.8%, representing 2.1bn items worth £2bn.
The DHSC said 7.6% of the PPE stock could not be supplied to frontline healthcare settings. “We are currently pursuing many options to repurpose and recycle items that are in this category,” a spokesperson told The Independent.
Bethell, responding to a question on claims against suppliers of PPE, told the Lords: “The department [DHSC] is working through all its personal protective equipment contracts to identify instances where products have not been delivered or failed quality tests and will seek to recover the costs for undelivered or substandard PPE.
“As of 27 July 2021, the department was engaged in commercial discussions (potentially leading to litigation) in respect to 40 PPE contracts with a combined value of £1.2bn covering 1.7bn items of PPE.”
In March 2021 the government said it was conducting an audit of PPE and would be recouping cash from suppliers where it did not meet requirements.
Whitehall PPE procurement has been embroiled in controversy with concerns over transparency and accusations suppliers with links to the government were given preferential treatment.
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