Coronavirus: Hancock defends private firm marketing test and trace package to councils

Labour denounces scheme as ‘scandal’ and says town halls should receive help for free

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Thursday 01 October 2020 12:31
Comments
NHS Test and Trace centre
NHS Test and Trace centre

Health secretary Matt Hancock has defended contractors Deloitte after the private firm was accused of “profiteering” for marketing coronavirus contact tracing services to local public health officials.

The company, which receives significant government funding to deliver Covid-19 testing, has formed a partnership with US software firm Salesforce to deliver a “local test and trace solution” to town halls.

Labour denounced the situation as an “utter scandal”, insisting that the information should be being provided free to local authorities.

But Mr Hancock insisted that Deloitte was doing “incredible” work for central government and was quite right to offer its services to town halls too.

There was outrage over an email sent out to public health officials by Salesforce agents and obtained by the Local Government Chronicle magazine.

The message stated: “Recent outbreaks have put pressure on local health protection teams.

“Salesforce and Deloitte have developed a local test and trace solution, which can be implemented very quickly.”

But one director of public health who received the message told the LGC the approach smacked of “profiteering”.

“The enduring failure of NHS Test and Trace to deliver is now being seen as an opportunity by companies involved in mobile testing units to profit,” he said.

“Even the NHS Test and Trace’s own delivery companies clearly can’t believe this shambles is working.”

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth demanded to know why the government was permitting the approaches by Deloitte, a “big four” consulting firm which is one of several private-sector contractors to be given lucrative work as part of the £10bn test and trace programme.

“Deloitte, who are contracted by the government to help run test and trace, are now trying to sell contract tracing services to local councils,” Mr Ashworth told the House of Commons.

“So the government’s own contractor, one of the very firms responsible for the failing system in the first place, now sees a business opportunity in selling information and services to local authorities.

“They should be getting this anyway, and this is in the middle of the biggest public health crisis for 100 years.

“Isn’t this an utter scandal? How can it be allowed?”

Mr Hancock replied: “Deloitte have done an incredible job in helping us to put together the contact tracing and the backward contact tracing that we have, and of course they should offer their services to local councils too.

“On the one hand he says local councils should have more impetus and more involvement in the contact tracing and then when a company with great experience in contact tracing comes forward to offer their services he criticises them. He can’t have it both ways.”

The Independent has approached Deloitte for a response.

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