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

That is exactly why I am urging the Government to use the local expertise we have in all our local authorities around the country. We should not reinvent the wheel, but use that local expertise, rather than wasting hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money.

The Prime Minister promised a world-beating test and trace system, yet we have one that is barely functioning. We have a system that is now so broken that SAGE is saying it is making next to no difference. We are all paying the price for these terrible mistakes. The truth is that as soon as the Government looked to a privatised solution, a political choice was made about how to respond to a public health crisis.

Serco is not integrated into the fabric of any of our communities. Ministers could have spoken to the Local Government Association. They could have spoken to the Association of Directors of Public Health. Instead, they chose to speak to Serco. There is a cosiness between the Conservative Government and these outsourcing companies, despite their failures to deliver.

Let us look at Serco’s record. Last year, Serco was fined £23 million as part of a settlement with the Serious Fraud Office over electronic tagging contracts. In December, two former senior executives at Serco were charged for that offence. In 2018, Serco was fined £2.8 million after it was revealed that it was providing asylum seekers with squalid, unsafe slum housing.

One would think that whenever Serco bids for a contract, sirens would be going off all over Whitehall, except that Serco did not bid for the contact tracing contract. It was handed it on a plate, with no competition, no rigour and no transparency. Ministers may claim that it is a coincidence that hundreds of millions of pounds of public contracts have been awarded to companies with clear links to the Conservative party, including Serco. That would be a heck of a coincidence, wouldn’t it?