Greater transparency needed on Government’s spending of Covid billions: Rachel Reeves

OVER Christmas and New Year, I’m sure we all reflected on how incredibly difficult 2020 was for everyone.

Rachel Reeves is Labour MP for Leeds West. She’s a senior Shadow Cabinet minister and has vowed to hold the Government to account over its Covid contracts.
Rachel Reeves is Labour MP for Leeds West. She’s a senior Shadow Cabinet minister and has vowed to hold the Government to account over its Covid contracts.

My deepest sympathies go out to those who have lost loved ones as a result of Covid-19, or know people who are struggling back to health as they try to cope with the symptoms of long Covid.

According to the Office for National Statistics, about 186,000 people have endured symptoms of coronavirus for up to 12 weeks – some for even longer. This can include fatigue, anxiety, depression and breathlessness.

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Long Covid is another sign we will be dealing with the pandemic, which has already taken a huge toll on both lives and livelihoods, for some time to come.

Boris Johnson can expect more intensive scrutiny from mPs like Rachel Reeves over Covid-related contracts.

So, it is welcome that more than 60 clinics are opening in England to help those suffering with long Covid. However, the ongoing issues faced by so many patients is a reminder of the brilliant work of our dedicated doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists and all the other NHS staff throughout this crisis.

They are clearly some of the heroes of 2020. However, there are many people and organisations who made heroic efforts to help others – particularly the most vulnerable in our communities.

The emergency services are still dealing with some of the most difficult situations. Their bravery has been all the more remarkable because of the shortage of personal protective equipment in the weeks after the virus struck. Transport workers, delivery drivers, pharmacists and supermarket staff were also on the frontline, helping people get food and medicine during the lockdowns.

In the most difficult of circumstances, teachers and school staff did, and are still doing, an incredible job trying to ensure children do not fall behind. Their job was made harder by the dithering and ineptitude of the Government over issues ranging from the fiasco over the handling of exams to the failure to provide enough equipment for remote learning.

Large parts of the country begin 2021 with even tighter lockdown restrictions.

Businesses played their part by providing free school meals during the October half-term, and keeping food on the shelves and in our kitchens. Local businesses like Carol’s Confectioners in Bramley and Sunshine Mills Business Park in Armley coped with the stop-go rule changes from the Government, while doing everything they could to keep customers and staff safe.

There were many local heroes in my constituency who provided food, collected medicines and helped out in many different ways. In recognition of their amazing work, I set up my own awards scheme which saw our community nominate Leeds West heroes for their tireless efforts.

One of our local councillors in Kirkstall, Hannah Bithell, received a 2020 Councillor Award as a “Covid-19 Hero” for her work from co-ordinating donations and sewing scrub bags to setting up support networks.

Our local charities, including debt charity StepChange and Leeds Women’s Aid, redoubled their work and did everything they could. Sadly, not everyone saw the pandemic as a chance to step up to the plate.

There were a handful of people who saw the crisis as an opportunity to make a fast buck – often at the expense of the taxpayer – as the Conservatives awarded multi-million pound Covid-related contracts to their friends and donors.

Every week we seem to learn of another individual or organisation with links to the Conservative Party that has won a lucrative contract. Many of those contracts have not even required a competitive tender.

In my role as shadow Cabinet Office Minister, I am determined to relentlessly scrutinise the Government over these deals and the use of billions of pounds of taxpayers’ cash. This is public money that has been spent – and in some cases wasted. We need answers, accountability and far more transparency over how the Government has spent public funds.

As well as the economic toll the virus has taken, the social and long-term health impact of fighting the virus will continue to present an immense challenge. All this comes at a time when our chronically underfunded NHS will come under further winter pressure and our schools will have to juggle resources.

However, there is some light at the end of the tunnel. It is great news that the vaccine rollout is under way. We should also pay tribute to the scientists and researchers working on the successful vaccine trials at Oxford University.

We all hope the vaccines will start to have an impact soon on the number of hospitalisations as a result of the virus. Just as importantly, the vaccines may mean families can be reunited - often for the first time in many months.

While there are many things from 2020 I know we all want to forget, there are some positives we should certainly cherish.

I have been struck by the sense of community, the desire to help the most vulnerable and the way people have pulled together to support each other over the past few months.

We should aim to take those ideals forward and ensure we properly value the real heroes in our society – and help make 2021 a much better year than the last one. I hope you all have a happy and safe New Year.

Rachel Reeves is Labour MP for Leeds West. She’s a senior Shadow Cabinet minister.

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