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Matt Hancock’s missing hundreds

The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care claimed the government's centralised, privatised scheme for 'test and trace' was delivering 'over 100 local actions' each week — but nine weeks after a freedom-of-information request from SOLOMON HUGHES, they have refused to name a single one

ACCORDING to Matt Hancock, there are over 100 successful anti-coronavirus measures a week — but they are all secret and cannot be discussed in public.

Hancock made his claims in an article he wrote for the Telegraph on July 12, under a headline promising “Test and trace” will “keep Covid cornered.”

Hancock argued that thanks to “success in slowing the spread of this virus” we could have a “careful restoration of our national life” and so “lift more of the lockdown and take targeted action.”

Looking back from October, as we face new growth of the virus and new lockdowns, Hancock’s claims look very hollow.

Describing this “targeted action,” Hancock said: “Each week there are over 100 local actions taken across the country — some of these will make the news, but many more are swiftly and silently dealt with.

“This is thanks in large part to the incredible efforts of local authorities.”

I asked under freedom of information if the Department of Health had a briefing outlining the hundreds of local actions behind Hancock’s claims.

After nine weeks delay, the department confirmed it did hold the “relevant” information, but claimed it was “exempt” from freedom of information and should remain secret.

It admitted a “general public interest in discussions and advice given to ministers in relation to ‘local lockdowns’,” but said there was a greater need to “ensure that the possibility of public exposure does not deter from full, candid and proper deliberation of policy formulation and development, including the exploration of all options” inside the government.

While Hancock could claim in a Telegraph article that there were “hundreds of actions” against Covid-19, actually listing those actions would stop “civil servants and subject experts” from engaging “in the free and frank discussion of all the policy options internally, to expose their merits and demerits.”

Local authorities have publicly complained that they are not getting the resources or information they need to run proper anti Covid-19 measures, even though their local test-and-trace services or door-to-door testing and advice can be more efficient than the national schemes.

Hancock was taking credit for local actions in his Telegraph article, but the fact he wants to keep secret which local actions he thinks actually worked, shows the government is not confident that it is doing the right thing.

The government is being pushed towards admitting that its centralised, privatised scheme for “test and trace” works badly, whereas local, publicly run schemes are more effective.

But it is hiding behind misleading claims and secrecy to avoid the obvious conclusion: the national contact-tracing contracts should be cancelled and the money and work passed to local authorities instead.

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