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LABOUR has slammed ministers for handing “failing” outsourcing giant Serco another contract to continue running Covid-19 testing sites.
The Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) has signed a new deal with the beleaguered private firm to operate roughly a quarter of testing sites in England and the north of Ireland for another year.
The firm was awarded the contract, worth up to £322 million, despite running into a series of controversies while managing large parts of the national test-and-trace service.
Earlier this year it was also revealed Serco had subcontracted work to companies previously embroiled in tax-dodging scandals.
A recent report found that failures in the test-and-trace system — which has cost £37 billion — were partly responsible for the rapid spread of the Delta variant in Britain.
Serco has also been criticised for profiteering from the pandemic, giving investors £17m in dividends last year.
In June Serco announced that it expects to make an underlying profit in 2021 of £200m — £15m higher than previously forecast.
Labour’s shadow health minister Justin Madders said: “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.”
Campaigners said the decision shows “just how doggedly the government will cling to its ideological obsession with outsourcing and privatisation.”
We Own It campaigners officer Pascale Robinson said: “Serco’s role in the test-and-trace system has been an unmitigated disaster. It has failed to manage a functioning system, putting countless lives needlessly at risk.
“Instead of splashing out more cash on private contractors, the government should kick these money grabbers out of the system for good.”
Keep Our NHS Public co-chair Dr John Puntis accused the government of prioritising business profits over public health and welfare.
“There is no way out of the cycle of restrictions and relaxations without a comprehensive Covid elimination strategy — vaccination is not enough and a test-and-trace system that works remains essential,” he added.
Serco chief executive Rupert Soames said the firm was proud of the role it played in Britain’s “highly successful Covid-19 testing infrastructure,” delivering an average of 51,000 tests a day.
A government spokesperson said: “We have been clear from the outset that NHS Test and Trace must achieve value for taxpayers and exercise good commercial judgement. This contract extension will deliver on that promise, ensuring we have the right people doing the right jobs to help us to fulfil our commitment of providing regular testing.”
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