How could the UK government lose £8.7 billion of the £12.1 billion of PPE purchased in 2020-21?

The yearly report from the Department for Health and Social Care makes for grim reading in what concerns Covid-related procurement, with the headline figure being the loss of £8.7 billion of the £12.1 billion of PPE spent in the financial year of 2020-21.

Over half of the loss (£4.7B) is accrued to the simple fact that buying PPE during the first wave of the pandemic was more expensive than at the end of year and that is perfectly acceptable - it reflects the market we were in at the time in terms of price.

The remaining £4 billion however are a different story. This include defective PPE (£670 million) excess PPE (£750 million) and PPE that is unsuitable for health and social care but might be used elsewhere (£2.6 billion). All three categories are particularly problematic but they reflect different issues.

As for the first category, defective goods can happen in any purchase and a 5% defect rate in difficult times is, in my view, an acceptable trade off *assuming* all appropriate safeguards during the purchasing process were followed (and that is a big if).

But the problem here is that we have a second category of PPE amounting to £2.6B that cannot be used for the purpose they were bought for. In other words, they're defective or unfit, effectively making the 'defective' category a £3.3B affair. That means 38% of the total expenditure in PPE (which, let us remind was way above 'normal' market price) was unusable and means questions must be raised about the appropriateness of the procedures taken.

As for the excess PPE, it is easy to see the problem from a procurement perspective with it: if it was not necessary to solve the urgent need that led to contracts being awarded without competition, then the award was unlawful. Whereas some might argue that even if it was not used in the immediate aftermath of the purchase it would be legal (which I do not), if there is no use *at all* for the intended usage of the purchases, then there was no need for them and ergo they were unlawful because there was no immediate need for that particular purchase.

In short, beyond my usual line that the grounds for use of the negotiated procedure without prior notice need to be assessed and met for every single contract irrespective of the existence of a pandemic and how I see those grounds to be very narrow, for this 38% of unusable PPE those purchases were unlawful.