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Government spend tops £124bn

The government has spent £124.3bn on programmes, initiatives and spending commitments in response to the pandemic, according to initial analysis from the National Audit Office (NAO)

On 11 occasions there were ministerial directions related to the government’s responses to Covid-19 where there were concerns that a spending proposal breached specified criteria. These are regularity, propriety, value for money or feasibility.

The NAO said that in some instances these directions were sought and granted to support urgent spend, and because it had not been possible for departments to carry out as full an appraisal of the value for money of some schemes as would usually be undertaken.

The watchdog says there were over 500 government announcements between 31 January and 4 May.

It puts the government spending on grants and other payments at £111.3bn, along with £5bn of expected costs of loans, and £8bn of increases to benefits.

This total does not include loss of receipts to the Exchequer of £4.4bn, largely from deferred tax payments, and nor does it include £13.4bn of NHS debt written off from 1 April 2020.

The government’s coronavirus response was mobilised across five areas, with the biggest allocation (£82.2bn) going on support for businesses, including support for retaining jobs, loans and grants.

The government spent £6.6bn on health and social care measures, covering equipment, testing, services and vaccine development, and £15.8bn on other public services and the wider emergency response, including funding for local government services, education and children’s services.

The coronavirus support for individuals, including benefits and sick pay and support for vulnerable people totalled £19.5bn, and some £0.2bn went on other support including providing the public with information.

The NAO’s research provides a summary of the government’s actions to date. It does not assess the value for money of the measures adopted by government or the effectiveness of its response, all of which it will consider at a later date.

Gareth Davies, head of the NAO, said: ‘The scale and nature of the Covid-19 pandemic and government’s response is unprecedented in recent history.

‘This report outlines the range of measures taken by government to date and where financial support has been targeted.

‘It also forms the basis for a substantial programme of independent reports from the National Audit Office to Parliament and the public on how the money has been spent and the lessons learned.’

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