Coronavirus: Government paid firms over £11m to build custom tracing app – before abandoning it

Matt Hancock conceded custom-made app wasn’t working effectively on iPhones

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Friday 19 June 2020 16:20 BST
The technology has already been tested on the Isle of Wight
The technology has already been tested on the Isle of Wight (AFP)

Ministers awarded contracts exceeding £11m to companies to aid the government’s effort to develop a custom-made coronavirus contract-tracing app, figures show.

On Thursday, Matt Hancock scrapped plans to build the country’s own centralised app, which has been trialled on the Isle of Wight, rather than use technology already available from global giants Apple and Google.

According to data published by the government, 11 firms have been awarded contracts to develop the old version of the app – totalling £11,297,811.

Within the contracts, the records show one company, Zuhlke Engineering, was awarded multiple contracts totalling more than £6.5m for helping to develop the technology.

On Thursday, officials conceded the app designed by the health service’s tech arm picked up just 4 per cent of contacts on users of Apple phones.

Speaking at the No 10 coronavirus press conference, Mr Hancock, the health secretary, said: “We found that our app works well on Android devices but Apple software prevents iPhones being used effectively for contact tracing unless you are using Apple’s own technology.”

Pressed on whether the government had wasted its time developing the custom-made app for England, the cabinet minister replied: “No, actually quite the contrary, I’m from Newmarket, we back both horses.

“We took the decision in May to start building the Google-Apple version as well and then because we built both we could test both.”

The app is viewed as playing a vital role in the contact tracing of Covid-19 across the country as the transmission rate of the virus declines, but the government has not yet provided a date for when the technology will be rolled out nationwide.

The Department of Health and Social Care also awarded more than £4.8 million to developer VMware and its subsidiary Pivotal in three contracts for work on the creation of the app, according to the Press Association. Other contracts were also given to firms involved in the security testing of the application, ranging in value from £67,000 to more than £162,000.

The Department of Health has been contacted for comment.

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