Labor overestimates amount spent on ‘questionable PPE’ that will be burned

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A Labor Party Facebook post, and on Twitterclaims Chancellor Rishi Sunak has spent £8.7billion on ‘dodgy PPE so useless it will have to be burned’.

While a large amount of PPE purchased during the pandemic is now burned, the £8.7billion figure refers to PPE expenditure that has been written off. Some of the equipment this relates to may still be usable, and some that is not usable is recycled or donated.

Where does the £8.7 billion figure come from?

The £8.7bn refers to the loss in value of PPE purchased in 2020/21, as estimated by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).

Of that, £4.7bn relates to “reductions in market prices since the goods were purchased”. This may reflect the fact that PPE costs increased significantly when demand was high in early 2020.

Although the value of this PPE has decreased since it was purchased, some of the PPE to which this loss relates may still have been serviceable at the end of the 2020/21 financial year, and therefore were not “so useless as to should be burned”.

Of the remaining £4 billion of lost value, around £0.7 billion was spent on faulty PPE, around £0.8 billion on PPE that was designated surplus to requirements and 2.6 billion pounds worth of PPE not suitable for the health and social care sector, but which may be usable elsewhere.

DHSC officials said some of this PPE has already been used outside the NHS, although the exact proportion is unclear. For example, during testimony before the Public Accounts Committee on March 7, 2022, Jonathan Marron, chief executive of DHSC’s Office for Health Improvement and Disparities, told MPs that more than 200 million masks were “made available to schools and transport”. In some cases, items were also sold. The department also said three billion of those items are technically compliant gloves held pending investigations into allegations of modern slavery. The department said if those “concerns” are met, it will try to return the items and get its money back.

Overall, it’s unclear how much PPE will ultimately be burned, although it’s likely to be a lot. Mr Marron told the Public Accounts Committee that the rate of disposal through this route would eventually reach 15,000 pallets per month, partly to provide electricity.

We asked Labor for comment, but they had not responded at the time of publication.

What about fraud?

The Labor post also claims the Chancellor approved £4.3billion in Covid loans to fraudsters.

This appears to refer to the £4.3billion lost to fraud and error in schemes such as furlough and Eat Out to Help Out, which HMRC does not expect to be able to recover – although It’s not loans, it’s grants. The total amount lost to fraud and error under these schemes, including the amount expected to be recovered, was £5.8 billion.

In addition, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy estimates around £6 billion in additional fraud-related losses linked to business loans it has issued during the pandemic, although this estimate is quite uncertain.

Image courtesy of Simon Davis/DFID

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