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Government fraud investigators are looking into contracts to supply the NHS with PPE during the pandemic

   News / 21 Apr 2022

Published: 21 April 2022
Location: London, UK

By Suzanne Evans, Director, Political Insight


Government fraud investigators are looking into contracts to supply the NHS with PPE during the pandemic, officials at the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) have said. Giving evidence to the Commons Public Accounts Committee, Jonathan Marron, the director general of the office for health improvement and disparities, said they had “concerns” over 176 contracts worth a total of £3.9 billion. He said that the actual amount of equipment at issue was worth £2.7 billion – with concerns ranging from the quality of the kit provided to performance of the contractor. Marron acknowledged that 1.1 billion items of PPE, worth £461 million, supplied during the pandemic had been identified as being unfit for any use.
 
Trades Union Congress general Secretary Frances O'Grady, Zero Hours Justice founder Julian Richer and Living Wage Foundation director Katherine Chapman have written a letter to prime minister Boris Johnsonasking him to "include an employment bill" in May's Queen’s Speech. The government announced an employment bill to "encourage flexible working and consult on making it the default unless employers have good reasons not to" in 2019, but the bill has since been shelved. Delivering a boost to workers’ rights "was an urgent task in 2019,” when a bill was first announced, and "is even more so today" given the impact of the pandemic, the letter said.
 
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has revealed that the average workplace pension of £65,400 for a public sector worker is six times more than the private average of just £10,300.  The ONS also said the number of people saving in workplace pensions has risen slightly overall, with 79% of eligible employees, or 22.6 million people, participating in a workplace pension in April 2021, up from 78% in 2020.
 
The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has unveiled new rules meaning that companies that want their shares to trade on the UK stock markets will have to ensure that four in 10 of their board members are women, and at least one is from an ethnic minority background, or explain why not. Businesses will need to account for their diversity targets in a year’s time, for the roles of either chair, chief executive, finance boss or senior independent director. The FCA has also dropped proposals to force companies to include men who self-identify as women in female diversity targets after hundreds of complaints. It will now give listed companies the “flexibility” to decide for themselves.
 
41% of households with children living at home were already struggling to pay their bills in early April, up from 29% two years ago, according to comparethemarket.com’s household financial confidence tracker. The latest findings will not yet have captured the full impact of higher bills and additional financial pressures placed on households in April, including the energy price cap increase, council tax rises and the national insurance hike. A separate report by economists at Goldman Sachs suggests families will be forced to raid £34bn of lockdown savings over the next three years as the cost-of-living crisis pushes up prices and households rack up higher credit card debts.
 
Britain's retail sector will be hit by a "tsunami of costs" in the coming months amid soaring inflation, rising energy, food and fuel prices, as well as the return of full business rates, utility hikes and national insurance increases, according to KPMG/Ipsos Retail Think Tank members.
 
The recent rise in national insurance will cause UK businesses to cut back on investment and job creation, new data from a survey by the Recruitment and Employment Confederation has shown. Around one in five firms said the tax rise would reduce their ability to invest, while one in six said they were less confident to create new roles.
 
A survey of egg producers by The British Free Range Egg Producers Association (BFREPA) found that 51% of them are “seriously considering stopping production” until the price they are paid improves, and a further 18% say they will make their decisions at the end of their current flock. Egg farmers have previously called on the major supermarkets to increase their egg prices due to soaring feed and energy costs in the production process but claim their demands have been ignored, meaning the price of free range and organic eggs in supermarkets are now below a level at which farmers can break even. BFREPA says the cost of feeding hens has jumped 50%, energy prices 40%, and fuel costs have increased 30%. Firms have also had to swallow more expensive labour and packaging. BFREPA is calling for at least a 40p increase in the wholesale price per dozen eggs.
 
European car sales sank in March as Russia's invasion of Ukraine added more problems to a sector already struggling with shortages of semiconductors, AFP reports. New passenger car registrations fell 20.5% compared to the same period last year, with 844,187 units sold, according to the European Automobile Manufacturers' Association. Excluding 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic paralysed the global economy, it was the worst performance for a month of March since statistics began in 1990.
 
Strike Action: The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers(RMT) is to ballot more than 40,000 workers at Network Rail and train firms in dispute over jobs and pay. The RMT says it could result in Britain’s biggest rail strike in modern history. Network Rail plans to cut at least 2,500 maintenance jobs as part of a £2bn reduction in spending, amid pay freezes and changes to working terms and conditions. The Communication Workers Union (CWU) also announced yesterday that Post Office workers will stage a one-day strike on 3 May in response to what the CWU said was a pay freeze for 2021 and an “exceptionally poor” 2% pay increase from April this year, plus a £250 one-off lump sum. Meanwhile, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) is facing industrial action for the first time in the pharmaceutical firm’s history. Unite said 86% of its about 700 GSK members voted to strike, and it gave the British company a 48-hour window to improve its 4% pay rise offer before the strike action is announced.
 
P&O Ferries has sacked seven agency workers who had been brought in as cheaper replacements to existing staff after they were found to have been drinking alcohol while on duty. The company said that seven workers were "found to be in breach of our strict guidelines on alcohol consumption and have been dismissed with immediate effect". "The safety of our passengers and crew is our foremost priority and we continue to operate a zero-tolerance policy towards drinking whilst on duty," a spokesman told the BBC.
 
Shares in Oxford Biomedica, the UK-based cell and gene therapy group which collaborated with AstraZeneca to make a covid-19 vaccine, ended the day more than 14% down yesterday after warning revenue will suffer this year as it halts the manufacturing of the vaccine. The fall pushed the company to the bottom of the FTSE 250.
 
Covid-19 testing company Randox Laboratories is expanding its services to include high street screening for other illnesses, including diagnostic tests for vitamin deficiencies, hormone imbalances, allergies and health concerns including heart, liver and kidney conditions. Tests will be priced from £49, and Randox plans to have as many as 20 clinics in the UK by the end of the year. As well as offering testing at airports and via mobile units, Randox already has 11 clinics in London and Greater London, Glasgow, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool and Belfast.
 
Just Eat Takeaway.com has said it is considering selling off its Grubhub arm after a slump in orders. The takeaway delivery specialist bought its US rival in a £5.75 billion deal two years’ ago but has recently faced calls from one of its biggest shareholders to offload the business.
 
Shell is urging shareholders to reject calls that it adopts more stringent environmental targets. The oil giant has set a target of 2050 to become a net-zero emissions business but Dutch activist group Follow This is calling on the company to hit targets that are “consistent with the goal of the Paris Climate Agreement” and reduce emissions by 40% by 2030. "Your directors believe that resolution 21, if adopted, could result in unrealistic interim targets that are harmful to the company's energy transition strategy and against good governance," Shell wrote. "It is unreasonable to require any single company to adopt 2030 targets that go further than even the most progressive pathways to net zero in its sector."
 
Former British Airways and Aviva executive Andrew Brem has been appointed to lead Uber’s UK business. He will report directly to Jamie Heywood, regional general manager for Northern Europe at Uber.
 
Mattel Inc., the makers of Barbie dolls have unveiled a limited-edition queen doll to mark the Platinum Jubilee. The Queen Elizabeth II Barbie, to be released on the Queen’s 96th birthday on Thursday, will be “instantly recognisable”, fitted with an elegant ivory gown and blue ribbon adorned with decorations of order. It will also feature a tiara modelled on Queen Mary’s fringe tiara, which the Queen wore on her own wedding day. It will be presented in a box inspired by the styles of Buckingham Palace, made from a 3D ornate die-cut border framing the figure, and an inner panel showing the throne and the red carpet of the throne room. The dolls will be sold at Harrods, Hamley’s, Selfridges, John Lewis and on Amazon.


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