The COVID-19 procurement gift that keeps on giving

The NAO has just published a report on the Department of Health and Social Care accounts for 2021-22 and it contains a number of interesting bits of information connected with COVID-19 procurement in the UK:

The reduction in value is to be expected as the prices on these items came down significantly since the height of the panic pandemic purchasing in 2020 and 2021. Nonetheless, the only reason why these items are being written down is because the items are no longer expected to be used. As I have been saying for the last 3 years, especially for PPE, if the items were purchased without competition then they have been acquired unlawfully because there was never a need for all this amount of PPE. As such, there was no emergency for this mountain of PPE.

And it is indeed a mountain of PPE since at the end of March 2022 the estimated monthly expenditure for storing the unused (and unusable) PPE was £24M. Let's not forget that in late 2021 the Department for Health was claiming this was a 'cost-effective way to meet storage needs'.

Once more, this is an excellent example of why we have procurement rules and why they drafted in the way they are. Their role is to avoid really bad procurement, and not to enable great procurement. In other words they constrain the ability of purchasers to make poor decisions, be it due to incompetence or foul play. Once the guard rails come off so that 'great procurement' can occur, these disasters will repeat themselves albeit in smaller scales naturally.