Last year, the government apparently wasted £5.1bn on pointless projects and avoidable errors, with the Ministry of Defence being the biggest culprit of all.
The department's £3.07bn losses included £4m on inventory for Sea King helicopters no longer in use, and £6m on earplugs found to be “not fit for purpose”. It also spent £7.2m on developing mobile mine-detection equipment later deemed unsuitable for use.
The next biggest waster was the Department of Health, which incurred losses of £761m, including £225m from vaccine write-offs alone. In the case of the Department of Education, £1.2m was lost when a school paid a single invoice into the wrong bank account.
The claim was made by the TaxPayers' Alliance, which looked through annual accounts of each government department for the 2013-2014 financial year.
The graph below shows the five government departments that lost the most during that time, with the Ministry of Defence far exceeding the rest.
According to the report, the findings highlight how government departments spent more than parliament would have agreed to during the allocation of funds for the year.
"Losses and special payments are items that parliament would not have contemplated when it agreed funds,” it says. “By their nature they are items that ideally should not arise."
It notes, however, that not all the losses would have been drained from taxpayers' pockets – some of the payments were to other public sector organisations such as NHS trusts, HMRC and local authorities.
Jonathan Isaby, Chief Executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said the results highlighted how the government needed to become more efficient:
While in some cases closing a programme or getting out of a rental agreement early may make long-term sense, many of these losses are simply ludicrous and will seriously damage the trust taxpayers have in Whitehall civil servants. It is clear there remains far too much waste in the system. With an ever-growing debt burden, we must make government more efficient and ensure taxpayers are getting real value for money.
Update: This article originally stated that the £6m spent on unusable earplugs accounted for more than 10 per cent of the overall total. This has now been corrected.