Javid in firing line as Serco wins test and trace deal
Test and trace come in for criticism
New UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid has suffered an immediate backlash after his department awarded a £322m contract to outsourced services group Serco.
The deal will be for continued provision of support services to Covid-19 test and trace centres.
The contract with the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) follows a competitive process and is for 12 months with an option to extend for a further 6 months.
However, the decision drew criticism from Justin Madders, Labour’s Shadow Health Minister, who launched into an attack on Mr Javid on his first day after replacing the disgraced Matt Hancock in the Cabinet.
Mr Madders said: “We have a new face in charge of the health service but it’s the same old story with the Tories handing out mega contracts to the failing Serco.
“Just days after a damning report into Test and Trace’s failures, the Government confirms it is business as usual by handing out more taxpayers’ money to this ineffective and inefficient company instead of supporting local public health teams to do this work.”
The value of the award could be up to £322m, although the actual amount could differ from this as the contract is designed to be flexible, matching services to the demand for testing over the coming months.
Under the terms of the agreement, Serco will provide test site operations, asset administration support, cleaning and security services at around 20% of sites in England and Northern Ireland, including a mixture of drive-through and walk-in testing centres, as well as mobile testing units.
Commenting on the award, Serco CEO Rupert Soames said: “We are proud of the part we have played in building and operating the UK’s highly successful Covid-19 testing infrastructure”.
Mr Soames, a former CEO at Glasgow-based power company Aggreko, added: “From a standing start in March 2020, NHS Test & Trace has grown a network of regional, local and mobile sites which have delivered over 18.5 million individual tests, an average of 51,000 tests a day.
“We are delighted that the DHSC has selected us to continue to support them in providing these services for at least the next 12 months.”
Serco was attacked in February for resuming dividend payments to shareholders despite concern over the ineffectiveness and cost of test and trace.
Mr Soames said the company had reimbursed all the pandemic support it had received from the government, and that shareholders deserved some payback having supported the company through dark days when it was forced to call on them for funds.
The company’s share price in mid-day trading was up 1.06% to 132.9p.
Mr Javid, meanwhile, has promised there will be no return of strict restrictions after the all-clear is given on 19 July, insisting ‘there is no going back’.
He said his “absolute priority” is to get life back to normal and that the easing of restrictions will be “irreversible”.
Mr Javid will update MPs this afternoon on the UK Government’s plans.