THE Tory government has “very serious questions” to answer about how it spent public money in the pandemic after figures revealed that Scotland’s NHS bought the same goods for significantly less, the SNP has said.

The party said the amount of waste created by the UK Government in its bid to procure PPE (personal protective equipment) during the pandemic was “staggering”, pointing to some £8.7 billion written off by the Department of Health (DHSC) in 2020-2021 alone.

The figure meant that a substantial majority of the £12.1bn the DHSC spent on PPE in that year went down the pan. While £4.7bn was written off due to a sharp fall in the products’ market value, billions more were wasted elsewhere.

READ MORE: Here's how many billions the Tories wasted in one year - and how Scotland could have spent it

For example, £673 million was spent on 122 contracts which all provided completely unusable kit, £195m was spent on items for which the Government has not “identified a suitable use”, and a total of £2.6bn was spent on PPE which was “not suitable for use in the NHS”.

The SNP said that this was not replicated in Scotland because Scottish Enterprise staff visited factories and examined products, and the nation’s NHS worked with manufacturers to ensure PPE met standards. The party said the UK Government did not do this.

Furthermore, the DHSC spent £750m on PPE it hasn’t needed and “which is in excess of the amount that will ultimately be needed”.

The National: Disgraced former health secretary Matt Hancock saw the DHSC waste billionsDisgraced former health secretary Matt Hancock saw the DHSC waste billions

The massive overspend was noted by Westminster's Public Accounts Committee, which found that while the DHSC had “intended to build up a stockpile that could last four months”, the amount purchased “could last five years”.

The committee noted in its report that such a massive stockpile was likely to “compromise Government’s ambition to maintain a UK manufacturing base for PPE”, as the DHSC could take from its own stockpile rather than buy from British manufacturers.

The over-purchase will also have contributed to the £4.7bn lost to a drop in market prices, given that the vast majority of the supply was bought unnecessarily.

The SNP said that by April 2021, 88% of PPE used in Scotland had been manufactured in the country, often using Scottish materials.

READ MORE: Michael Gove 'misused' emergency Covid contract for Unionist campaigning

Elsewhere in PPE procurement, the SNP highlighted how Audit Scotland had found “no evidence of preferential treatment or bias in the awarding of contracts” north of the Border. The Tories’ VIP lane for Covid contracts was ruled illegal in court.

The Westminster committee found this “high-priority lane” to be poorly designed and managed. Regardless, “around one in ten suppliers that came through the high-priority lane were awarded a contract compared with one in a hundred for the ordinary lane”. This figure was arrived at in February 2021, before revelations that the UK Government had kept secret around 40% of all contracts awarded through the VIP lane.

SNP MSP Kenneth Gibson (below) said the details raised “serious questions” about the Tory government’s ability to handle public finances and Boris Johnson’s claim to cite “affordability as one reason to scrap protective pandemic measures like testing and isolation payments”.

The National: EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND - JANUARY 10: SNP MSP Kenneth Gibson on the way to First Minister's Questions in the Scottish Parliament, on January 10, 2019 in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo by Ken Jack/Getty Images).

Gibson said: “While the SNP Scottish Government worked hard with Scottish manufacturers to produce PPE domestically at a reasonable cost, it’s clear that the UK Government has failed to secure any value for money for English taxpayers.

“At a time when Boris Johnson cites affordability as one reason to scrap protective pandemic measures like testing and isolation payments, it’s staggering to see such clear waste by the UK DHSC.

“There are very serious questions to be asked of a Tory government that has just written off £8.7 billion of PPE debt - when they have already been exposed as lining Tory donor pockets with contracts for companies with no experience of manufacturing PPE.”

Gibson, who convenes Holyrood’s Finance and Public Administration Committee, pointed to unit costs prices reported by Private Eye magazine.

These showed that:

  • IIR type face masks cost NHS Scotland 31p each, and the DHSC 40p (29% higher).
  • FFPIII type face masks cost NHS Scotland £2.08 each, and the DHSC £2.51 (21% higher)
  • Disposable gloves cost NHS Scotland 9p each, and the DHSC 12p (33% higher)
  • Non-sterile gowns cost NHS Scotland £4.18 each, and the DHSC £4.50 (8% higher)

Gibson added: “How England managed to negotiate such terrible unit prices on that kind of scale is baffling - but says all that needs to be said about Westminster’s disastrous mismanagement of public finances.”

A DHSC spokesperson said: “Covid-19 is the biggest challenge our country has faced in a lifetime and our priority throughout this unprecedented pandemic has always been saving lives.


“We have delivered over 17.5 billion items of PPE to the frontline, with 97% of PPE we ordered being suitable for use – the supply of these vital items helped keep our NHS open at a moment of national crisis to deliver a world-class service to the public.

“It is inappropriate to compare average pricing for PPE in Scotland with peak pricing in England at the point of highest demand.”