Test and trace ‘still spending more than £1m a day on consultants’

More than 1,200 consultants were employed by the programme at the end of October

Peter Stubley
Sunday 21 November 2021 19:56
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The government’s test and trace service is still spending more than £1 million a day on private consultants despite commitments to cut down on their use, it has been reported.

A total of 1,230 consultants were employed by the programme at the end of October, according to UK Health Security Agency figures cited by The Guardian.

While that is a significant reduction from the 1,707 consultants employed on 1 September, it could be costing the taxpayer around £1,353,000 each day based on previously-published average contractor rates of £1,100 a day.

Management consultants made up 34 per cent of the test and trace workforce as of 1 September, according to a written answer provided by vaccines minister Maggie Throup.

This was roughly the same as the number of civil servants in the service.

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth told the Guardian that there was "no justification for continuing with these highly paid consultants."

He added: "Ministers should ensure every penny piece of taxpayers’ money is spent wisely on patient care – not blown on expensive management consultants."

It comes after MPs found that test and trace “has not achieved its main objective to help break chains of Covid-19 transmission and enable people to return towards a more normal way of life”.

The Public Accounts Committee also said that the service "continued over-reliance on consultants is likely to cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of pounds."

It noted that 2,239 consultants were employed in April 2021, which was more than the 2,164 employed during the second wave in December 2020.

The UKHSA, which took over responsibility for the test and trace service at the start of October, said in a statement it was working to reduce the number of consultants "in a constructive and planned way".

“A number of roles require highly sought after specialisms in competitive market places and we have employed consultants to help deliver these vital services," a spokesperson said.

"We have significantly reduced consultant workforce in many areas while responding to the unprecedented demands created by Covid-19.

"We are seeking to build a strong team of expert and generalist civil servants and always recruit to the civil service wherever we can.”

The UKHSA suggested that cutting back too quickly might have a "detrimental effect on our health protection services".

Last month The Independent reported that a cost-saving blunder by test and trace triggered a 32 per cent drop in positive Covid test results entered into the Covid-19 app.

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