Nick Smith MP Labour MP for Blaenau Gwent
I rise to support the motion on PPE, which has become a terrible tail of waste for our country. First, having purchased so much PPE, the taxpayer is now paying to store and, as I have discovered, burn a great deal of it. Secondly, a band of profiteers, some of whom took advantage of their political links, exploited our country’s desperation. Many of those opportunists used chicanery and secrecy to make eye-watering profits. Now, the UK Department of Health and Social Care is withholding information on the cost of staffing its contractual battles with some of those PPE suppliers.
I will address the continuing cost of PPE storage. A Government response to questions I asked last month said that the Department currently holds 13.2 billion items of PPE and the cost of storing that is a staggering £770,000 a day. I was going to go on to some other data, but we just heard an update on that that still works out at, I think, about £128 million a year if we round it up over the year ahead, which is half the cost of a brand-spanking new hospital. That is a disgrace.
We have heard about the modern-day pirates whose business accounts have been almost impossible to trace and track. Thanks to The Sunday Times, we know about a network of companies with connections to Conservative lobbyists, one of which is Sante Global, formerly Unispace Health. Private Eye deserves a medal for digging deeper: its “Profits of Doom” special highlighted how Unispace Global won PPE contracts worth nearly £700 million—Richard Brooks is a fantastic journalist. Reports suggest that it has accounted for its profits through different companies from those known to the Department, so it is impossible to see how much money it has made.
That information is shrouded in secrecy due to our feeble accountancy laws, but the taxpayer deserves to know who is profiting from contracts awarded by the Government with public money for the public benefit. It is high time that this PPE treasure hunt came to an end. We need full, open accounting for covid-19 contracts. These companies should be made to publish full details of their income, profits, commissions, dividends and big boss bonuses. The Chancellor should then consider a windfall tax on their super-profits.
The Government could also learn a lesson in transparency. In my experience, in recent months they have been trying to dodge questions on the continuing cost of PPE. Last month, I asked the Secretary of State for Health how much unused PPE had been donated, sold, recycled and incinerated since the start of the pandemic—no answer yet. I also asked when he planned to publish the forecast of the cost of resolving the ongoing contractual disputes we have heard a lot about today—again, no answer yet.