United Kingdom

UK will be exposed to paying pandemic cost risks for decades-report

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A woman stand inside an almost deserted underground train, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in London, Britain, January 5, 2021. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

LONDON, July 25 (Reuters) - The British government will be exposed to financial risks from its 372 billion pound pandemic spending for decades, according to lawmakers' reports on Sunday that also said more than 2 billion pounds had been spent on unusable protective equipment.

In two reports on the response by Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government to the COVID-19 pandemic, parliament's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said lessons needed to be learned before a promised public inquiry due to be held in 2022.

"With eye-watering sums of money spent on COVID measures so far the government needs to be clear, now, how this will be managed going forward, and over what period of time," Meg Hillier, the PAC chair, said.

"The ongoing risk to the taxpayer will run for 20 years on things like arts and culture recovery loans, let alone the other new risks that departments across government must quickly learn to manage."

The PAC highlighted an estimated loss of 26 billion pounds through fraud and repayment default from loans handed to businesses to help cope with the pandemic as an example of the ongoing financial risk.

In a second report, the committee said there had also been "unacceptably high" levels of wasteful spending, with 2.1 billion items of unsuitable personal protective equipment (PPE) purchased, equating to more than 2 billion pounds of public money.

The government said only 0.84% of all PPE had been found to be unusable, and it had plans to repurpose that which could not be used in the health service.

"There are robust processes in place to ensure that government spending always provides value for money for the taxpayer," a Department of Health spokesperson said.

The opposition Labour Party said the findings were further evidence of failings by the government and said the inquiry into the pandemic needed to start immediately.

Reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Alex Richardson

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