UK Govt Wasted £14 Billion on Covid Fraud, Luxury Villas, and Vegan Ice Cream: Report

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 21: Labour Party campaigners pose for a selfie outside Downing Str
Rob Pinney/Getty Images

An investigation from a British newspaper has found that the Conservative government has wasted at least £14 billion on frivolous expenditures such as luxury villas in Italy, vegan ice cream, and massive levels of fraud during the Chinese coronavirus crisis.

According to an investigation from London’s Daily Telegraph, the broadsheet most closely aligned with the ruling Tory party, financial disclosures since the start of the year found at least £14 billion in waste as finance minister announced on Thursday that the nominally conservative government would be raising taxes yet again by £24 billion.

Items identified as waste by the paper included £6,000 on a villa in Naples, £837 Vegan ice-cream in Uruguay, £5,393 on a ‘storytelling training’ session with a narrative ecologist, and £3,376 on children’s swimming lessons in Panama.

Former Business Minister Jacob Rees-Mogg described the flippant spending of taxpayer money as “shameful”, saying: “You cannot reasonably ask taxpayers for money that you then waste… you need to set your budgets on the basis money will be spent efficiently, and therefore you need to raise a lower level of taxation.”

The vast majority of waste identified by the paper came during the Chinese coronavirus crisis, with an estimated £10 billion being handed out to people making fraudulent claims to take advantage of the numerous government handout schemes meant to support businesses and workers who were ordered to stay home. The National Audit Office has acknowledged that the government took “inadequate” measures to prevent taxpayer money being lost in such a manner.

Though the government has pumped millions more into investigations and attempts to recover the money, it is only expected that £1.1 billion in fraudulent coronavirus claims will be returned to the state by 2024, meaning nearly £9 billion is likely lost for good.

In addition to this, the government also wasted vast sums of money on personal protective equipment (PPE) during the rush to secure medical supplies at the outset of the pandemic — in large part as a result of failures to adequately prepare for an emergency situation. Thus the government was put in a position of turning to untrustworthy sources, such as manufacturers in China to meet the demand.

According to the investigation, the Department for Health and Social Care paid out over £4 billion on PPE, out of which £2.6 billion was determined to be unusable, £670 million were defective, and £750 million spent on surplus stock. The government was later forced to pay out £436 million in fines after it abandoned stocks of PPE for too long and paid an additional £35 million to destroy unusable equipment.

Responding to the waste, the chairwoman of the Public Accounts Committee, Dame Meg Hillier said: “Every pound of taxpayers’ money wasted is a pound that’s not spent either on public and public services or on tax cuts. And that actually does hit the taxpayer in the pocket.”

The revelations came as Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced £55 billion in tax hikes and spending cuts on Thursday to fill the so-called ‘black hole’ in the public’s finances, which came largely as a result of the government’s decisions to lockdown the economy during the Wuhan virus. The increased taxes, which come on top of the £32 billion in hikes in October, means that Britons will have the largest tax burden since the Second World War as the economy is likely already in a recession.

A government spokesman said it is “committed to delivering the best value for money, cutting waste and inefficiency and ensuring every pound of taxpayers’ money is spent in the best possible way. That includes selling under-used government buildings, digitising public services, harnessing innovation, and cracking down on fraud.

“We… are working to recover fraudulent or payments made in error – we have already recovered over £1 billion and are significantly reducing PPE storage costs.”

Follow Kurt Zindulka on Twitter here @KurtZindulka


Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.