Local Contact Tracing

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:17 pm on 14th October 2020.

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Photo of Rachel Reeves Rachel Reeves Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster 4:17 pm, 14th October 2020

I beg to move,

That this House
notes the consistently high performance of local contact tracing systems when compared with the centralised system established by the Government;
notes the wealth of evidence that the considerable sums of public money spent so far on the national system would deliver better public health outcomes if devolved to local authorities and public health experts;
and calls on the Government to extend the additional funding for contact tracing available in Tier 3 areas to all parts of the country and ensure that councils and local public health teams receive the resources and powers they require.

This Government are obsessed with a failed model of outsourcing. It is failing to reach people who come into contact with someone with the virus, it is not getting information to local councils who need to act on it, and it is wasting hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money that could be spent on a local response using local expertise. It is not too late for the Government to change course, and I urge them to do so today.

Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition made the case for a short, sharp circuit break of restrictions lasting two to three weeks to firmly apply the brakes on the rising infection numbers that we are seeing. A crucial aim of the circuit break is to drive down infections, but there is another purpose as well: it would buy the Government some crucial time to fix the failures in contact tracing.

The current model of contact tracing is broken and it will get worse, not better, while corporations such as Serco are allowed in the driving seat rather than local public health teams. We might ask: how bad is the Government’s approach to contact tracing?

One director of public health said:

“It needs someone with the courage to say” it “isn’t working”, and it was described as a

“catastrophe…the very worst system I’ve…seen”.

Well, we do have the courage to say that it is not working and I urge the Government to have that courage, too.