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Rishi Sunak Will Leave a Long List of ‘Big Nasties’ for the Next Government to Clear Up

A new Parliamentary report reveals a catalogue of ‘broken promises and wasted cash’ which will cost hundreds of billions of pounds for the Government’s successors to fix

Rishi Sunak visits an apprentice training centre at the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC), in Coventry, England, Monday March 18, 2024. Photo: Associated Press / Alamy

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The next Government will inherit a long list of ‘big nasties’ from the Conservatives which will cost hundreds of billions of pounds to clear up, a report by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, warns today.

 After a year when her committee examined projects across Whitehall, the NHS and schools the chair of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, Dame Meg Hillier, lists what she calls a catalogue of “big nasties – essential spending which cannot be put off”.

The list includes failed projects to tackle crumbling schools, hospitals, public health laboratories, outdated IT and renewing and refurbishing Parliament.

She warns: “All too often, we have seen money misdirected or squandered, not because of corruption, but because of group-think, intransigence, inertia, and cultures which discourage whistle-blowing. On occasion, the scale of failure has been seismic, such as HS2 or Horizon in the Post Office, or the procurement of PPE during Covid. Other times, there has been a systemic failure to be agile and adaptable as events unfolded.”

Unless this is tackled she warns: “my successors as chair of the PAC will be doomed to a cycle of broken promises and wasted cash in perpetuity.”

The report produces eye-watering shortfalls of money showing where short-termism by the present Government has worsened the state of public services.

In schools instead of spending £5.3 billion a year to refurbish or replace crumbling schools attended by 700,000 pupils, the Treasury cut this to £3.1 billion a year increasing the backlog.

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In the NHS the backlog of crumbling hospitals has jumped from £4.7 billion to £10.2 billion after the NHS raided the capital programme to keep patient services going. Despite spending £178.3 billion a year patient services are worse, waiting lists longer, particularly for cancer patients who need urgent treatment.

A delayed £530 million programme to modernise public health laboratories which handle the most dangerous diseases such as Ebola and Lassa fever will now cost £3.2 million. Failure to implement it “would present a significant risk to public health,” says the report.

The report says a decision not to decommission 20 nuclear submarines which have been withdrawn from service since 1980 has left the ministry of defence with a £500m maintenance bill and it has run out of space of where to store them. The ministry now has a £7.5 billion future liability to dispose of them.

The Ministry of Justice now has a £900 million maintenance backlog on the prison estate and plans to create 10,000 new prison places have only seen 206 new places.

Some £100 billion of spending by local councils remains unaccountable because of a shortage of auditors and councils like Birmingham, Nottingham, Slough and Thurrock have gone effectively bankrupt.

The country’s main animal health laboratory in Weybridge, Surrey, has “deteriorated at an alarming extent”. It has a £2.8 billion piecemeal redevelopment plan over 15 years but if it fails, “the UK will have no capacity to react to new and emerging animal disease threats”.

There are a large number of failures among IT systems across Whitehall -some of them impacting on the general public – notably the DWP underpaying pensioners.

The report says: “DWP has underpaid pensioners £2.5 billion,138 with errors dating back to 1985, and many more pensioners may still be under-claiming. 90% of these underpaid pensioners are women. The errors were due to outdated systems dating back to 1988.”

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