The government should publish a list of companies that have received furlough money to increase transparency around the scheme, amid fears of waste and fraud, parliament’s spending watchdog has said.
The cross-party Public Accounts Committee (PAC) also said that chancellor Rishi Sunak’s repeated extensions to the scheme at short notice caused uncertainty that could have led to higher job losses.
Sunak introduced the furlough scheme in March to cushion the blow from the coronavirus pandemic. He extended it until next April last week amid fresh lockdowns.
Under the scheme, workers unable to work receive 80 per cent of their wages from the government, up to £2,500. So far, it has supported almost 10m jobs at a cost of more than £44bn.
However, MPs and taxpayers have consistently raised concerns that companies are misusing the scheme. Many have also questioned whether it is efficient.
Last week, accountants BDO said it would pay back £4.1m of furlough money after criticism of partners’ £500,000 payouts.
MPs demand ‘transparency’ over furlough
Today, the PAC said HM Revenue & Customs should list the companies who have used the scheme by the end of January 2021.
“With billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money going into private companies to support jobs, the least we expect in return is transparency,” said Committee chair Meg Hillier.
“That is doubly so when speed has been prioritised over effectively targeting support, or checks on the value it offers.”
The report also raise questions over Sunak’s approach to changing economic policy. The chancellor made numerous visits to the House of Commons in the autumn to extend support schemes at short notice.
This approach could have cost jobs as companies laid off workers thinking furlough was going to end, the report said.
It said the government must “provide as much clarity and forewarning as possible about the employment support arrangements”.
An HMRC spokesperson said: “The furlough scheme has saved millions of jobs and kept businesses in operation.
“We will consider carefully the findings and recommendations of the PAC report and respond in due course.”