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Rishi Sunak insists he is 'not writing off' £6bn in Covid loan fraud

·2-min read
Rishi Sunak, left, has vowed to fight to recoup taxpayer cash lost to Covid fraudsters after Lord Agnew, right, resigned over the lost £5bn - AP Photo/Alastair Grant
Rishi Sunak, left, has vowed to fight to recoup taxpayer cash lost to Covid fraudsters after Lord Agnew, right, resigned over the lost £5bn - AP Photo/Alastair Grant

Rishi Sunak has mounted a firm public defence of his record on combating Covid loan fraud as Conservatives jockey for position in Westminster.

The Chancellor insisted he was not "ignoring" a near-£6bn crime wave linked to emergency coronavirus lending schemes following an extraordinary resignation at the dispatch box by the former Treasury minister Lord Agnew, an ally of Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary and a potential rival for the Tory leadership.

In a series of tweets on Wednesday, Mr Sunak said: "A lot of people are concerned about fraud in our Covid support measures and they’re absolutely right to be.

"I’m not ignoring it, and I'm definitely not ‘writing it off’.

"We’re going to do everything we can to get that money back and go after those who took advantage of the pandemic."

The intervention came as Conservative MPs prepare for a potential leadership contest ahead of the publication of a report into the “Partygate” scandal by the civil servant Sue Gray.

Lord Agnew said on Monday that the oversight of bounce-back loan lenders by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the British Business Bank was "nothing less than woeful".

He added that the Treasury “appears to have no knowledge of, or little interest in, the consequences of fraud to our economy or society” while the PM also faced questions over Covid loan fraud in the House of Commons.

Almost 1.6m Bounce Back Loans totalling £47bn were 100pc guaranteed by the taxpayer with minimal checks in a bid to speed up support to businesses, despite fraud warnings to officials from senior bankers.

One executive told the Financial Times that he had recorded meetings with officials at which they were warned about fraud.

Mr Sunak stressed that the Treasury had spent more than £100m on fighting fraud with almost 1,300 dedicated staff.

He said: “Businesses on the brink of collapse needed support quickly, something that many, including Labour, were calling for. We delivered that support in record time with Furlough and our loan schemes saving thousands of jobs.

“Some pointing at Covid fraud now are the same people who insisted, at the time, support should not be means-tested at all.”

HMRC figures earlier this month suggested officials have written off at least £4.3bn of the £5.8bn stolen from Covid support schemes.

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