Local Contact Tracing

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:12 pm on 14th October 2020.

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Photo of Naseem Shah Naseem Shah Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 6:12 pm, 14th October 2020

May I start by placing on the record my thanks to my local director of public health, Sarah Muckle, and her team for all their hard work during this pandemic? Labour has been calling on the Government to learn the lessons, help curb a rise in infections and save lives. The Government continue to use this phrase “NHS track and trace system”, which is more widely and truthfully known by the British public as, “Huge amounts of cash going to big private companies”—companies with links to the Tory party, and companies with truly abysmal track and trace records and poor results: in short, Serco and Sitel. The Government are doing this instead of funding local contact tracing and addressing the failures of a privatised and centralised contact tracing model.

Bradford, which contains my constituency, consistently seems to perform bottom on tracking and tracing the contacts of those who test positive for covid-19. The average percentage of contacts reached in Bradford over the last nine-week data period was 48.1%, but some weeks the figure has been lower than 40%. That is half the Government’s target. The rising infection rates are the direct result of a broken track and trace system, the Government’s inability to use straightforward communication and sheer incompetence on the part of this Government.

Here are some examples to illustrate how poor the Government’s communications have been. Two days ago, the Secretary of State told me that Bradford will be in the high tier of restrictions. Later that same day, in the press conference, the chief medical officer praised Bradford for our response to the situation. Then yesterday, we heard that the Government had started discussions to place Bradford in the highest tier of restrictions. Today, there is a pre-paid, pre-booked full-page Government advertisement in the Telegraph and Argus, Bradford’s local paper, saying that Bradford is in the medium tier of restrictions. So which one is it? Are we in the medium, high or higher tier?

Hold on—there’s more. On a Zoom call two days ago, I asked the Secretary of State what his Department was doing to address the issue of low numbers of people being tracked and traced in Bradford. Two days later, I still have no response, and yet the Secretary of State expects Members to be on a call with 20 minutes’ notice, and that is if they are lucky enough to get the email and not be on a train travelling down here.

The privatised track and trace programme is not working. My constituents deserve better. We need to get ahead of this virus. I will come to this Chamber time and again to highlight the Government’s incompetence and hold them to account for the sake of my constituents, because my constituents deserve better.