Tuesday 12 January 2021 7:04 pm

PwC bags £2.5m government contract to oversee PPE audit

Accounting giant PwC has landed a £2.5m contract to oversee an audit of the government’s procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE) during the pandemic, following a scathing report from the UK’s spending watchdog.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) yesterday published details of a £2.5m contract with the UK’s largest accounting and advisory firm that will last until the end of June.

The contract will see PwC provide “regular updates” to the DHSC’s finance and account teams, including creating audit trails for the department’s £15bn PPE inventory.

“This is likely to involve the creation of some accounting records retrospectively in addition to ensuring robust processes and controls are in place to allow real time accounting going forwards,” the DHSC said in tender documents for the contract. 

The Big Four Firm has been awarded 26 other Covid contracts — the second-highest number of successful bids by any company, according to data from Tussell.

The latest PPE contract means PwC has so far raked in more than £30m from government contracts during the pandemic, including a deal worth more than £226,000 handed out in October to oversee a review of the government’s beleaguered Test and Trace programme.

The government-owned British Business Bank (BBB) today announced it has also recruited PwC to examine cases of possible fraud in its Covid-19 business loans programme. PwC has so far received almost £13.4m for its consultancy work on BBB, which has helped distribute loans to smaller businesses impacted by the pandemic.

It comes after a damning report from the National Audit Office (NAO) in November slammed the government for its “lack of transparency” in handing out PPE contracts and accused ministers of giving priority access to companies with political ties. 

The NAO report found the government wasted more than £10bn on PPE in “chaotic” and inflated market conditions, including more than £150m on unusable face masks. 

The spending watchdog said there “was not always a clear audit trail to support key procurement decisions” and gaps in documentation.

It called for a “comprehensive lessons-learned exercise” to consider whether “any issues with PPE provision or use might have contributed to Covid-19 infections or deaths” and to inform planning for future emergencies.

But MPs have slammed ministers for handing out millions in taxpayer cash to consultancies during the pandemic. 

Meg Hillier, chair of the public accounts committee, said she was shocked by the increase in consultancy costs, adding that her committee had launched an inquiry into the government’s reliance on the private sector during the coronavirus crisis.

“Consultancy work on very specialist technical issues can have a place but we have a tendency to pass work over to highly paid consultants as a first choice too often,” she said. 

Figures revealed last week by social care minister Helen Whately showed that the government has spent more than £375m on private consultancy services for NHS Test and Trace — the equivalent of £163,000 per consultant.

A DHSC spokesman said: “We have drawn on the extensive expertise of a number of private sector partners who have provided advice and expertise to assist in the government’s vital work. This public-private partnership has helped us work faster and more effectively as we face down the virus.”

A spokesperson for PwC said: “We’ve made the breadth of our capabilities and skills available to support the critical work of the public sector at a time of national crisis. Our people are proud of the positive contribution their work has made to tackling challenges created by the pandemic.”