Labour pledges Covid Corruption Commissioner to chase £2.6 billion of ‘lost’ public funds

Rachel Reeves has pledged to introduce a “Covid corruption commissioner” in government aimed at recouping billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money that has been lost to fraud and flawed contracts during the pandemic.

The shadow chancellor is set to announce today that the body will chase at least £2.6 billion of “lost” public funds.

In total, an estimated £7.2 billion was lost in fraud from Covid support schemes including from business loans and grants, furlough and then-chancellor Rishi Sunak’s “eat out to help out” programme.

In her conference speech in Liverpool, as reported by the Guardian newspaper, Reeves will announce that Labour would review sentencing on fraud and corruption conducted against UK public services, as well as reform public procurement rules to include a strong “debarment and exclusion” regime for those complicit in fraud against the state.

“The cost to the taxpayer of Covid fraud is estimated at £7.2 billion with every one of those cheques signed by Rishi Sunak as chancellor and yet just 2 per cent of fraudulent Covid grants have been recovered”, Reeves will add.

“We will appoint a Covid corruption commissioner equipped with the powers they need and the mandate to do what it takes to chase those who have ripped off the taxpayer, taking them to court and clawing back every penny of taxpayers’ money that they can.

“That money belongs in our NHS, it belongs in our schools, it belongs in our police and conference – we want that money back.”

In her speech today, Reeves will also announce that a Labour government would accelerate the planning process for critical national infrastructure.

The proposals include updating all national policy statements, some of which have not been revised for over a decade, within the first six months of Labour entering office.

Reeves will also address criticism of Labour that it has been too focused on providing reassurance to voters, and not giving them enough to inspire them.

The Guardian reports that the £28 billion green investment plan will be key to this.

The shadow chancellor will say: “Labour’s task is to restore hope to our politics. … The hope that lets us face the future with confidence, with a new era of economic security because there is no hope without security.

“You cannot dream big if you cannot sleep in peace at night. The peace that comes from knowing you have enough to put aside for a rainy day and the knowledge that, when you need them, strong public services will be there for you and your family.

“The strength that allows a society to withstand global shocks because it is from those strong foundations of security that hope can spring.”

Speaking this morning, Reeves said a Labour government would be prepared to borrow but only within its fiscal rules.

The shadow chancellor told Times Radio she had set out fiscal rules and would stick to them with “iron discipline”.

They include paying for day-to-day expenditure through tax receipts, getting debt down as a share of the economy “and then only subject to that will we invest in things that are going to grow our economy”.

She added: “We will only borrow if it is consistent with those fiscal rules”, citing the key rule which commits the party in government to have “debt coming down by the end of the parliament”.

Meanwhile, Rishi Sunak has been accused of “desperate stuff” over his plans to hold an event and take part in a broadcast interview during Labour conference.

An unwritten agreement between Labour and the Conservatives suggests the two main parties do not compete for attention during each other’s annual conferences.

However, Sunak will hold a “PM connect” Q&A event this morning and do a Radio 2 interview with Jeremy Vine which is set to clash with Reeves’ speech.

It is an apparent bid to the shadow chancellor out of the headlines.

A Labour source told the Politico website the move was a “bit below the belt and a bit naff”.

Another said it was “desperate stuff and shows they’re rattled by a changed Labour Party and our plans to change Britain.” is the UK’s leading digital-only political website, providing comprehensive coverage of UK politics. Subscribe to our daily newsletter here.