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24 Jan, 2022 17:36

Minister says ‘thank you & goodbye’ over Covid-19 row

Conservative minister Lord Theodore Agnew quit suddenly on Monday, citing the government’s “lamentable” handling of Covid-19 loan fraud
Minister says ‘thank you & goodbye’ over Covid-19 row

Lord Theodore Agnew, who has served as UK minister for efficiency and transformation in the Treasury and Cabinet Office since February of last year, announced his resignation in the House of Lords on Monday. Agnew criticized particular departments for failures to combat pandemic loan fraud and declared, “thank you and goodbye,” to applause from the house. 

The peer’s decision was spurred on by what he claims is the lack of action by government departments on combating fraudulent Covid-related loans. Agnew had been tasked with heading the efforts to combat Covid loan fraud, but said on Monday that he cannot defend the government’s “lamentable track record” on the issue. 

“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,” he said. “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 effect.”

The government’s Bounce Back Loan Scheme (BBLS) supported over one million businesses with more than £47 billion (over $63bn) in payments during the pandemic in an effort to offset losses caused by shutdowns. 

“The oversight by both [Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy] and the British Business Bank of the panel lenders of BBLS has been nothing less than woeful,” Agnew said. “They have been ably assisted by the Treasury, who appear to have no knowledge or interest in the consequences of fraud to our economy or society.”

Officials have predicted there could be as much as £20 billion (nearly $27bn) in losses from Covid loan schemes due to business defaults or fraud, the majority of it relating back to BBLS. 

In his resignation letter to Boris Johnson, Agnew said his resignation was “not an attack on the prime minister” and was not related to any other controversies connected to the Tory leader. Instead, the outgoing minister focused his criticism on the bureaucratic workings of Whitehall. 

“It has certainly not been through want of trying, but the government machine has been almost impregnable to my endless exhortations,” Agnew wrote, revealing only two fraud officials were hired at the beginning of the pandemic, and both lacked experience in the area. He also alleged there was a refusal to cooperate with the Cabinet Office’s team engaged in counter fraud. The government has been “desperately inadequate” in the handling of the pandemic loans and their efforts on fraud, Agnew added.