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1 AUGUST 2022

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Article from BTNews 1 AUGUST 2022

Where did the money go?

The government doesn’t know whether almost £500m spent on traffic-light travel restrictions imposed during the pandemic worked, according to MPs on the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), which also questioned whether the cost of the system was worth the disruption caused.

A report into managing cross-border travel during the pandemic found that ministers changed the rules at least ten times between February 2021 and January 2022, but gave the travel industry little time to adapt its operations for those changes.

“It is, therefore, unsurprising that some 40% of people did not understand the self-isolation requirements after travel,” the PAC said.

“The government relied on private-sector companies (‘carriers’) to implement checks on additional health documentation, and on the public to understand and comply with what was required of them.

“Despite this key role and the costs incurred, government gave carriers no specific additional support. It also did not clearly communicate changes to the measures to either carriers or the public.”.

“Despite spending at least £486m on implementing its traffic light system to manage travel during the pandemic, government did not track its spending on managing cross-border travel or set clear objectives, so does not know whether the system worked or whether the cost was worth the disruption caused. Similarly, its failure to develop good data to inform its decisions means it does not know the impact on public health of granting 2.5m exemptions from parts of the system”, the report said .  It also calculated that taxpayers ended up subsidising almost half of the £757m cost of the quarantine service which was meant to be self-funding.

The committee said “the taxpayer has ended up subsidising £329m, almost half the bill, with the rest passed to people travelling. This was in spite of increasing the cost to individuals to more than £2,200 for a single adult over ten days in August 2021”.

Taxpayers were also not “adequately protected” from fraud against the managed quarantine service, with the Department for Health and Social Care owed £74m in unpaid bills as of 1 March this year.

“This includes £21m of refunds issued but DHSC does not know how much of these were fraudulent and how much was from people who were not satisfied with the service they had paid for. DHSC has only investigated two cases of fraud and has shown limited interest in pursuing more, citing the small amount of money involved in individual cases”, according to the PAC

The report added: “Managing cross-border travel was an essential part of health measures introduced by government during the pandemic.

“Despite spending at least £486m on implementing its traffic-light system to manage travel during the pandemic, government did not track its spending on managing cross-border travel or set clear objectives, so does not know whether the system worked or whether the cost was worth the disruption caused.

“Similarly, its failure to develop good data to inform its decisions means it does not know the impact on public health of granting 2.5m exemptions from parts of the system.

“People travelling found the rules difficult to understand, and 40% of people did not know the rules on self-isolation.”

Airlines were legally responsible for checking that everyone travelling to the UK had submitted a Passenger Locator Form recording their contact information and recent travel history.

But this imposed extra costs on carriers in a period where their revenue had fallen dramatically, the committee found.

https://committees.parliament.uk/committee/127/public-accounts-committee

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