Today’s report by the National Audit Office (NAO) provides an overview of government’s wide-ranging response to COVID-19. It has found that between 31 January and 4 May, government made over 500 announcements. The report sets out £124.3 billion of programmes, initiatives and spending commitments in response to the pandemic.1
The costs of government’s response are large and uncertain and will depend on the continuing health and economic impacts of the pandemic.2 The £124.3 billion of programmes, initiatives and spending commitments announced by government cover grants and other payments (£111.3 billion); expected costs of loans (£5.0 billion) and increases to benefits (£8.0 billion). This does not include loss of receipts to the Exchequer of £4.4 billion, largely from deferred tax payments.
Government’s response was mobilised across five areas, with the following spending commitments:3
- £6.6 billion:4 Health and social care measures, covering equipment, testing, services and vaccine development;
- £15.8 billion: Other public services and the wider emergency response, including funding for local government services, education and children’s services;
- £19.5 billion: Support for individuals, including benefits and sick pay and support for vulnerable people;
- £82.2 billion: Support for businesses, including support for retaining jobs, loans and grants; and
- £0.2 billion: Other support, including providing the public with information
There have been 11 ministerial directions related to the government’s responses to COVID-19. These have been sought and granted to exceed Departmental Expenditure Limits authorised by Parliament for 2019-20 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.5
This report is the first of a programme of work to be undertaken by the NAO to support Parliament in its scrutiny of government’s response to COVID-19. It provides a summary of government’s actions up to 4 May and includes additional government funding commitments of over £0.5 billion made up until 15 May but does not assess their value for money or their effectiveness. The NAO will continue to update Parliament on further government announcements, programmes and their costs. It will also undertake detailed audits of specific elements of government’s response, to identify lessons for subsequent stages of the pandemic and potential future pandemics.