The Government has resisted pressure to sack the head of NHS Test and Trace amid deepening concern among ministers and MPs that the system is failing to stem the spread of coronavirus.
Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis insisted that Baroness Harding was doing “a very good job” after one senior Conservative MP called for her to be replaced by a senior military commander.
However, Labour warned her position was “untenable” as it emerged ministers were considering cutting the time people have to self-isolate if they have been in contact with someone who has the disease because of concerns over public compliance.
At the same time it was reported that Boris Johnson has become “disillusioned” with the data he is receiving from Test and Trace after some of the figures he was given turned out to be inaccurate.
Now the PM and Matt Hancock are to be sued for handing her the role.
The Good Law Project and Runnymede Trust have launched legal proceedings against the government’s repeated appointment of individuals who are connected to the Conservative Party – without advertising these roles allowing others, possibly more suited, to apply for the position.
They argue the government has ignored its public sector equality duty under the Equality Act 2010.
A crowd fundraising effort achieved its £30,000 goal in just 24 hours. it currently stands at over £35,000.
On their Crowd Justice page they write.
Appointing your mates to top jobs isn’t new or the preserve of the Conservative Party: we all remember “Tony’s Cronies” too. But it’s high time we put a stop to it. Runnymede Trust and Good Law Project are challenging the appointment of Dido Harding, as well as a string of other appointments which were made with seemingly no advertisement or fair recruitment process.
This Government’s approach discriminates against those born without a silver spoon in their mouth. It’s unfair to those who don’t rub shoulders with high-ranking Ministers. And it’s unfair to groups who the data shows are shut out of public life.
The judicial review raises two legal arguments:
- Recruitment without open competition is indirect discrimination on grounds of, in particular, race and disability, contrary to the Equality Act 2010; and
- Government appears to have breached its public sector equality duty in s. 149 of the Equality Act 2010 in filling senior public sector roles without paying due regard to the impact of its recruitment approach on those with protected characteristics.
Dr Halima Begum, director of the Runnymede Trust, said: “When a recruitment process is not open and fair, it discriminates against those who are not already connected to the decision-makers.
“This has a serious detrimental impact on equality and on the diversity of the people at the top of organisations who get to call the shots. This is always important, but even more so now so many lives depend on it, and particularly as we know Black and Asian people continue to be disproportionately affected by coronavirus.
“We are calling on the government to ensure proper process is followed and for NHS bodies to be truly representative of the people they protect.”
Jolyon Maugham QC, director of the Good Law Project, said: “The practice of allowing politicians to appoint their pals into prestigious public posts has gone on for far too long. The best way to secure the talented people we need to handle this national crisis is open competition. Instead appointments seem to be about who you know rather than what you know.
“We leave to others to judge whether making political appointments to Test and Trace has been good for the country. Our complaint is that it is unfair: unfair to those born without a silver spoon in their mouth. Unfair to those who don’t rub shoulders with high-ranking ministers. And unfair to groups who the data shows are shut out of public life. Were this any other country we’d call it what it is: cronyism.
“Virtually every week another job or public sector contract is handed to a friend of the Conservative Party behind closed doors. It’s unfair – and it shuts out much of the talent we need properly to handle the crisis.”