Today, Olivia wrote to Matt Hancock calling on him to end Serco contracts, which are due for renewal on 17th May, and invest in local public health teams to deliver contact tracing instead. You can read her letter, reproduced below.
Dear Matt Hancock
Re: Non-renewal of Serco contract
I understand that the contract with Serco for the contact tracing system is due for renewal on 17th May and that you are required to inform them if it will be by Monday 3rd May. I am writing to urge you not to renew the contract and instead provide funds and support to local authorities to deliver a contact tracing system.
As you know, the bill for track and trace has totalled £37bn. Last year, the scale of spending was justified by the Government on the basis that it was crucial to averting future lockdowns. Undoubtedly, a contact tracing infrastructure should be a vital part of the public health effort to contain and supress the virus. However, since then, the country has suffered two further national lockdowns alongside local restrictions. As the recent Public Accounts Committee report says, it remains unclear what – if any – effect the contact tracing system in its current form has had on the transmission of the virus.
A large part of the failure and inefficiency of the system has been the over-reliance on large, centralised private contractors, such as Serco, to deliver the service. It is unclear what expertise Serco brought to the table to be awarded the contract in the first instance. Since they began operations, the company have been mired in controversy including reports of untrained Serco staff taking the place of clinically qualified contact tracers and, remarkably, of Serco staff being left with nothing to do. For example, according to data obtained by The Guardian, in 2 days last summer 417 agents made 135 calls – approximately 0.14 calls per agent per day.
In contrast, locally-based contact tracing systems have consistently outperformed the national call centres and provided far more value for money in terms of their effectiveness – and no wonder, because they are run by the public health teams in local authorities who know their communities far better than the private outsourcing firms.
If we had properly invested in strengthening this pre-existing health infrastructure, rather than attempting to create a whole new system from the ground up, I strongly believe our contact tracing system would have been more robust and would have been implemented far sooner. Indeed, the international evidence shows that where the public sector has a greater input into track and trace and builds on existing resource – for example, Germany – the outcomes are far better.
I am urging you to end the inefficient, wasteful contracts with Serco and back our local public health teams in delivering the responsive and effective contact tracing system we need. I look forward to hearing from you on this important matter.
Olivia Blake MP