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Government urged to scrap Serco's contract after leaked email

THE government was urged to scrap Serco’s contract for the test-and-trace system today after the outsourcing giant bragged it was using it to “cement” privatisation into the NHS supply chain.

Serco is among several firms being paid to recruit, coach and manage a network of 25,000 tracers in the scheme, which is being led by Baroness Dido Harding.

A leaked email from Serco chief executive Rupert Soames said he doubted the scheme would run smoothly — but hoped it would further embed private firms in the NHS supply chain. 

In an email to staff, Mr Soames said: “There are a few, a noisy few, who would like to see us fail because we are private companies delivering a public service.

“I very much doubt that this is going to evolve smoothly, so they will have plenty of opportunity to say I told you so.

“If it succeeds ... it will go a long way in cementing the position of the private-sector companies in the public-sector supply chain. Some of the naysayers recognise this, which is why they will take every opportunity to undermine us.”

The repeatedly delayed test-and-trace system, designed to prevent a second wave of Covid-19, is not expected to be fully rolled out and working at “a world-class level” until September or October, according to the scheme’s chief operating officer, Tony Prestedge, who admitted as much in a staff webinar.

But Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said today that Mr Prestedge was talking specifically about the app, which the government said is not now due to be rolled out until the end of June — despite ministers previously promising that it would be in operation by mid-May.

The leaks were made as the official toll of deaths in Britain linked to the coronavirus passed 40,000. Another 357 deaths were recorded before the weekend, taking the total to 40,261. 

The number of positive coronavirus tests increased by 1,650 to reach 283,311.

Cat Hobbs, director of public ownership campaign group We Own It, slammed Serco as “disgusting” for failing to deliver the test-and-trace system — which public-health experts have said needs to be fully operational before the lockdown is eased — while profiting from taxpayers amid a public health crisis.

She added: “Lives are at stake but the outsourcing companies can only see pound signs. 

“The government must scrap Serco’s contract and give local public-sector teams the responsibility for getting us out of lockdown safely.”

Keep Our NHS Public co-chair Dr John Puntis told the Star that it was “appalling” that the government was “throwing money” at Serco to run the scheme when the company has a “long history of failing to deliver on public contracts.”

The paediatrician added that the government had marginalised existing contact-tracing teams in local authorities, failed to invest in public services, and shunned a community-based approach to test-and-trace.

Mr Puntis said: “Throughout the Covid crisis, the government has been determined to hand contracts to the private sector without competitive tendering or transparency.

“The inevitable consequences have been both tragic and predictable.”

Labour shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth described the Serco leak as “scandalous,” adding that the coronavirus crisis “shouldn’t be an excuse for more Tory privatisation.”

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