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

Let us be clear: there are places that are doing this—for example, Wales, to which I shall come later—and the difference between what we see with Serco and what we see when it is done in-house is that with the latter more people are being traced, which means more people are going into self-isolation and a slower spread of the virus. That protects all our lives and means that our economy can get back on track. The Government are the ones who are wasting hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on a system that is failing—a system that is letting us down.

Outsourced contact tracing is part of £11 billion of public procurement in this pandemic that has not gone out to competitive tender. The Government do not even know whether they are getting value for money because they do not even bother to test it in the marketplace or against what local authorities can deliver. For the outsourcing companies this is a gold rush. I have called for the National Audit Office to investigate, and I look forward to its findings later this year. I am sure that all Members will look forward to the findings from that investigation so that they can check for themselves that they are getting the value for money that they seem to believe they are getting.

One issue that I hope the National Audit Office addresses is the murky subcontracting of the Government’s contractors. My hon. Friend Helen Hayes asked the Government how many companies Serco has subcontracted its work on contact tracing to; the answer was 29 companies other than Serco. The amount subcontracted to other firms represents 80% of staffing. Who are these businesses? The Government have refused to say—because Serco decided that it was too commercially sensitive. We now have a Government that outsource even decisions to private outsourcing companies. The situation is frankly ludicrous.

It has taken investigative journalists, whistleblowers and the Good Law Project to start to piece together the jigsaw. Why the shyness? Presumably because if the Government revealed what was going on, it would not stand up to public scrutiny. One business to which Serco has subcontracted work is Concentrix, which was previously involved in scandals relating to tax credits.

In September, it was reported that another Serco subcontractor, Intelling, was paying bonuses of £500 to staff despite poor contact rates. One contact tracer employed by Intelling was reported to have said:

“I couldn’t believe it when I got my bonus. It’s an absolute disgrace…I’m getting paid and now given a bonus for doing nothing…I really want to help and be involved and make calls and be useful. But I’m not being given anything to do. The system is on its knees.”

This evidence is devastating because it shows that people who should have been contacted are not being contacted and that, far from what Steve Brine said, the Government are handing out money to companies without getting the value for money that we should all be demanding.

I challenge the Minister today to name all Serco’s subcontractors and to publish details on how much they have been paid and for what. I will give way to the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Jo Churchill, if she would like to tell the House that information. This is revealing: either they do not know, they do not care, or they will not say. I fear that the more we know about what is happening under the bonnet in contact tracing, the worse it gets.