Labour has accused the government of “burning taxpayers’ money by the billion” after the Public Accounts Committee revealed that up to £4bn of unusable PPE bought over the pandemic will be incinerated to “generate power”.
Nearly one in four contracts for buying PPE which the government awarded during the pandemic are now being questioned as a result of a “haphazard purchasing strategy”, the PAC says, including 3.5 billion gloves “where there are allegations of modern slavery against the manufacturers”.
A department for health and social care (DHSC) spokesperson defended the strategy as necessary in the circumstances, saying “we make no apology for procuring too much PPE rather than too little, and only 3 per cent of the PPE we procured was unusable in any context.”
Government critics have long been calling for an inquiry over how PPE was procured in the early months of the pandemic, accusing ministers including the former health secretary, Matt Hancock, of handing out money to friends, business contacts and party donors with little scrutiny.
In January the High Court found the so-called “VIP lane” for politically-connected suppliers was unlawful, and that the majority of PPE supplied by some companies through the process was unusable in the NHS. Problems include “counterfeit” masks and gowns which are not water-repellent, according to the report.
It continued: “The Department now needs to pay for the disposal of millions of items of PPE and is appointing two commercial waste partners to help them dispose of 15,000 pallets a month via a combination of recycling and burning to generate power. The costs and environmental impact of disposing of the excess and unusable PPE is unclear.“