Dido Harding’s Test and Trace system is splashing out nearly a million pounds every day to private consultancy firm Deloitte, newly-released government figures have revealed.
David William’s, a top-ranking civil servant at the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), told MPs on Monday that 900 of the firm’s consultants were currently employed – at a rate of £1,000 per day.
The disclosure of the astonishing level of expenditure comes after parliamentarians were told that DHSC expected to spend £15 billion on coronavirus in the next three months on testing alone – particularly the rollout of controversial rapid testing – to tackle the pandemic.
It emerged last year that more than a thousand consultants from Deloitte had been hired by the government – but Williams’ admission to the Commons Public Accounts Committee is the first time the true cost has become clear.
“The latest number I’ve got suggests that’s come down to around 900 [consultants],” he told the committee. “We have a plan in place to see that number reduce markedly over the course of the next few months, although there is a dependency on our ability to backfill a number of the roles they are currently doing with permanent civil servants.
“The average cost across our consultancy support, I imagine it’s about the same for Deloitte, is around £1,000 pounds a day.”
‘All that combined expertise’
Giving evidence to MPs, Harding defended her reliance on consultants. “I think it is appropriate to build a service in extreme emergency circumstances using short-term contingent labour and consultants for some of those roles,” she said.
“I think they’ve done very important work alongside the public servants, the military, the healthcare professionals and members of the private sector who have come and joined us as well. We couldn’t have built the service without all of that combined expertise.”
Shadow Cabinet Office minister Rachel Reeves told HuffPost: “It is scandalous that this incompetent Tory government has chosen to waste enormous sums of public money on 900 management consultants paid £1,000 a day rather than put public health teams in charge of contact tracing like other countries have.
Speaking after the hearing, committee chair Meg Hillier added: “By now test and trace should be business as usual. That huge sums are still being spent on consultants while its performance is variable at best is a real concern.
“And there must be plenty of people expert in the delivery of citizen services and logistics who could by now have been recruited to these roles.”
Meanwhile Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said he is self-isolating after coming into close contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus.
He said he was alerted by the NHS app on Monday evening, having led a Downing Street press conference.
Hancock in isolation
“Last night I was pinged by the NHS coronavirus app, so that means I will be self-isolating at home, not leaving the house at all until Sunday,” he said in a video on his Twitter on Tuesday morning.
“This self-isolation is perhaps the most important part of all the social distancing because I know from the app that I’ve been in close contact with somebody who’s tested positive, and this is how we break the chains of transmission.
“I’ve got to work from home for the next six days and together, by doing this, by following this and all the other panoply of rules that we’ve had to put in place, we can get through this and beat this virus.”