Politics

Ministers ‘wasted billions’ on luxury party villa and vegan ice cream

Jeremy Hunt says that ‘everyone will be paying more tax’

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The Government has been accused of wasting £14billion of taxpayers’ money, squandering cash on a luxury villa and vegan ice cream, among other things. The claims come ahead of the Autumn Statement today, in which the Government is expected to announce a number of tax rises as part of an attempt to fill a £50billion hole in the public finances.

An analysis of financial disclosures from the start of last year, conducted by the Telegraph, found billions of pounds were wasted on Covid-related support, unused or broken protective equipment and seemingly frivolous items, such as £6,000 on a villa in Italy.

The wasteful spending would be enough to cover the courts, prisons and probation budget for a year.

It would also be enough to fund more than half of Jeremy Hunt’s expected increase in taxes.

Mr Hunt is understood to be looking to implement an equal split of tax rises and spending cuts, which could translate into £25billion in hikes for taxpayers.

His plan for the economy will be unveiled this morning when the Chancellor delivers his Autumn Statement to MPs in the House of Commons.

Jacob Rees-Mogg branded the waste as “shameful”, saying: “You cannot reasonably ask taxpayers for money that you then waste… you need to set your budgets on the basis money will be spent efficiently, and therefore you need to raise a lower level of taxation.”

Meanwhile, Dame Meg Hillier, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said: “Every pound of taxpayers’ money wasted is a pound that’s not spent either on public and public services or on tax cuts. And that actually does hit the taxpayer in the pocket.”

The Telegraph conducted its analysis by looking at figures, expenses and statements in Parliament and reports by the Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit Office.

In some cases, the spending had been going on for years, and expenses including a “Czech beads jewellery subscription box” of knitting supplies for prisoners which cost £554, a workshop with an artist for £813 and “Aqua-Tots” children’s swimming in Panama for £3,376.

It also comes at a time the Government spent more than £4billion on protective equipment during the pandemic, and it was revealed that £2.6billion was unsuitable while £670million was defective.

The Government has also faced £436million in fines for leaving protective gear in storage for too long and has agreed to pay £35million to destroy gear that cannot be used.

It has been reported that £10billion has been given out to Covid support schemes that are suspected of being fraudulent, and the National Audit Office has said the Government has taken “inadequate” steps to protect taxpayer money.

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The £14billion discovered by the Telegraph also does not include money already spent on the HS2 project, the biggest rail project made in Northern England.

Reports show, £105.6million of the HS2 project has been spent of a Euston station which can “no longer be used” due to the project being scaled back.

Tory MP and former cabinet minister Esther McVey had warned she will not back tax rises unless the “unnecessary vanity project” of HS2 was axed and said putting up taxes was the “last thing” the Government should be doing.

She said: “Given that we have the highest burden of taxation in living memory, it is clear that the Government’s financial difficulties are caused by overspending and not due to under-taxing.”

A Government spokesman said they are “committed to delivering the best value for money, cutting waste and inefficiency and ensuring every pound of taxpayers” money is spent in the best possible way.

They continued: “That includes selling under-used Government buildings, digitising public services, harnessing innovation, and cracking down on fraud.”

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