'Schoolboy errors'

Treasury minister quits over Covid fraud blunders

Lord Agnew resigns

Treasury minister Lord Agnew dramatically announced his resignation during a speech in the Upper House after accusing the government of failing to tackle widespread Covid fraud.

He stunned fellow peers by storming out of the chamber after claiming a list of blunders had led to £4.3billion of Covid loans being written off by the Treasury. 

Lord Agnew said he had been presenting his arguments to the Treasury and Department of Business officials for nearly two years to “get them to lift their game” over issues such as duplicate loans and monitoring the performance of lenders.

He told the House: “The oversight by both BEIS and the British Business Bank of the panel lenders of BBLs has been nothing less than woeful.

“They have been assisted by the Treasury, who appear to have no knowledge or little interest in the consequences of fraud to our economy or our society.”

He accused the government of “schoolboy errors”, giving as an example a thousand companies receiving bounce back loans even though these firms were not even trading when Covid struck.

He said: “Total fraud loss across Government is estimated at £29bn a year, of course not all can be stopped but a combination of arrogance indolence and ignorance freezes the Government machine.”

He admitted that his warnings had not been successful and that this left him with little choice than to step down.

“Given that I am the minister for counter fraud, it would be somewhat dishonest to stay on in that role if I am incapable of doing it properly.”

“It is for this reason that I have sadly decided to tender my resignation as a minister across the Treasury and Cabinet Office with immediate affect.”

After raging at a “combination of arrogance, indolence, and ignorance” which he claimed was costing the equivalent of a penny on income tax, he said:, he departed the Chamber to a round of applause. 

Labour’s leader in the Lords, Baroness Smith of Basildon, said: “I think we have just witnessed one of the most dramatic moments we have ever seen in the House from a minister who felt his integrity could no longer ensure he remained a member of the Government.”

Rachel Reeves, Labour’s Shadow Chancellor, said: “This is a damning indictment of the Chancellor and the Government’s failures on fraud.

“That the Government’s own anti-fraud minister feels he is unable to defend the Government’s record on billions of pounds of taxpayer cash gifted to criminals tells you all you need to know about the incompetence of this government.

“It should be a source of enduring shame to the Chancellor that he has so casually written off £4.3bn of taxpayers’ money that is now in the hand of criminals and gangs.

“Coming on top of billions spent on crony contracts and billions more lost in loan fraud schemes, these levels of waste destroy any claim the Conservatives have to careful stewardship of the public finances.

“Labour would treat every pound of taxpayer money with the respect it deserves.”

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