The UK government is spending around £400,000 a day to store unused personal protective equipment (PPE) bought during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Health minister Will Quince told the House of Commons the government was holding 13.1bn items of PPE, with the majority in the UK but around 120m items in China.
Some 145,000 pallets of excess stock have been disposed of so far, he said, while storage costs for China are £35,000 a day.
The storage costs emerged during a debate on a Labour motion, passed by MPs, that will force the government to provide papers and correspondence related to the award of PPE contracts to PPE Medpro.
PPE Medpro is at the centre of controversy surrounding Baroness Michelle Mone, the peer who referred PPE Medpro for lucrative Covid contracts. Mone, who is under investigation by Parliamentary authorities but denies any link to PPE Medpro and any wrongdoing, has now taken a leave of absence from the House of Lords.
Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said: “The links between the company Medpro and the Tory peer in question were never publicly disclosed. In fact, they were denied repeatedly by the lawyers acting for those involved. We now know that the money ended up in offshore accounts directly linked to those individuals.”
She added: “We do know that £3.5bn of contracts have been handed out by this government to their political donors and ministers’ mates… we need an investigation into that as well.
“In fact, we need an investigation into every pound and penny that has been handed out, and to learn the lessons so that public money is not wasted again.”
Rayner said Conservative peers had voted down an amendment to the Procurement Bill currently passing through the Lords that would have “banned VIP lanes in future procurement decisions”.
The motion said more than £12bn was spent on PPE in 2020-21 and £8.7bn of this had been “written off”, including £4bn that “did not meet NHS standards and was unusable”.
MPs were told the Department of Health and Social Care remained in dispute with suppliers over 176 PPE contracts worth £2.7bn.
Junior health minister Neil O’Brien told MPs 19,000 companies made offers to provide PPE and 430 went through the VIP lane, of which 51 (12%) won a contract.
“At every point in the procurement process, the process is rightly run by our brilliant commercial professionals,” he said. “Ministers are not involved in the procurement process; ministers are not involved in the value of contracts. Ministers are not involved in the scope of contracts, and ministers are not involved in the length of contracts.
“Due diligence was carried out on every single company, financial accountability sat with a senior civil servant, all procurement decisions were taken by civil servants, and a team of more than 400 civil servants processed referrals and undertook due diligence checks.”
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