Hundreds of consultants lined up for test-and-trace work

24 September 2020 4 min. read

Hundreds of consultants have been lined up to help the Government fortify its floundering test-and-trace plans, as the troubled system continues to face claims that it is “barely functional.” Reports in the British press suggest an army of professionals from KPMG, EY and others are to be drafted in to try and rewire the beleaguered app.

The UK’s test-and-trace programme has been touted as a key way in which the country can return to relative normality in the absence of a Covid-19 vaccine, while managing an emerging second wave of the virus. Official figures confirmed a 75% increase in positive weekly cases across England in the first half of September, demonstrating just how important the tracing of cases is now, however at present 90% of tests are failing to hit the 24-hour turnaround target.

While Dido Harding, Head of the £10 billion NHS programme defended the system’s performance on her watch, telling MPs, “I strongly refute that the system is failing,” trust in the test-and-trace scheme is sinking by the day. Liberal Democrats Health Spokesperson Munira Wilson summed up the current mood suggesting that the UK’s testing system “seems barely functional” and alleging that “the testing system is in meltdown. People can’t access tests, turnaround times are down, cases are rising. The Government is at risk of losing control of the virus.”

Hundreds of consultants lined up for test-and-trace work

As the Government looks to preserve its crumbling authority amid the deteriorating situation, reports from The Guardian suggest it is preparing to shore up its £10 billion coronavirus test-and-trace programme by drafting in teams of management consultants. According to the UK paper, “hundreds” of staff from firms including KPMG have been put on standby to work on “back office” parts of the system “on a short-term basis” over the next six months, while other firms thought to have been contacted for help include EY.

Neither EY or KPMG have commented on the matter, while the Government is to still to be negotiating contracts. According to The Guardian, however, the consultants are required in areas including programme management, data, project support and supply chain, and could start work in the coming days. The cost of the consulting services to the public purse are unclear at present, but any expense at all on such contracts is likely to come under fierce scrutiny, as the country’s biggest consulting firms have already picked up pay-cheques for work on many aspects of the UK’s Covid-19 response – including test-and-trace itself.


The consulting industry stands to take a sizeable hit from the Covid-19 crisis, and according to assorted estimates it will be worth around 18% lower at end of 2020 as a result. Public sector consulting is one of the few areas where revenues continue to boom, as the UK’s Government looks to paper over the cracks of a decade of austerity by turning to the private sector for support in responding to the mounting crisis.

In August, it emerged the industry had received contracts worth £56 million to help with the national response to the coronavirus. Deloitte, Cambridge Consultants and PwC took the three largest fees, pocketing some £23 million between them. In September, it was then reported that private consultancies including Deloitte and Boston Consulting Group had been handed public funds to draw up the plans for the Government’s controversial Project Moonshot.

The spending of public funds on external expertise has drawn criticism from opposition figures. Labour MP Clive Lewis dubbed the deal as “potentially the biggest NHS privatisation in history” while questioning why the work could not be given to the NHS to do in-house. Meanwhile the Good Law Project has commenced legal proceedings against the Government, alleging that the Moonshot plans ignore scientific evidence and break value-for-money rules.