Test and Trace to phase out consulting firms for inhouse consultants

07 January 2021 Consultancy.uk 4 min. read

The Government’s Test and Trace pandemic response programme is attempting to reduce its reliance on private sector giants after a public relations backlash. The news comes after it emerged that management consultants and trade bodies had recently been tasked with providing pro bono advice on plans to establish an in-house Crown Consultancy.

After a decade of austerity left the UK’s Civil Service spread thin, the coronavirus crisis saw the UK Government resort to massive outsourcing of its work – tapping consultants from many of the world’s largest professional services firms to help paper over the cracks. In August 2020, publicly available data collated by The Guardian and online journalism platform openDemocracy showed contracts worth a total of £56 million has been handed out to help with the national response to the first wave of Covid-19 – but by October, this bill was found to have spiralled to £175 million, an increase which was so large that UK Parliament announced a probe into the Government’s heightened use of management consultants amid the crisis.

The public response to the hefty amounts of tax-payers’ money has become increasingly hostile, meanwhile, particularly in regards to the floundering Test and Trace system the Government is using to detect Covid-19 and isolate those who test positive. The platform has leaned heavily on private sector providers since its inception earlier this year, with Serco and Sitel being contracted to deliver contact tracing call handling services, while consultancy giants including Deloitte and McKinsey & Company have also been used to manage testing sites and the programme as a whole.

Test and Trace to phase out consulting firms for inhouse consultants

As the troubled system continued to face claims that it is “barely functional,” Sky News revealed that some consultants were being paid £7,000 a day to work on the ‘Test and Trace’ system. At the same time, McKinsey reportedly charged the Government £14,000 a day for six weeks’ work in helping to define the “vision, purpose and narrative” of the new National Institute for Health Protection (NIHP).

The deployment of private sector firms during the pandemic has been highly controversial, aside from sheer amount of money involved. It has been claimed that the UK’s centralised contact tracing system, largely managed by private firms, has been markedly less effective than local government programmes. Indeed, the National Audit Office (NAO) claims that, from March to June, Serco and Sitel’s call handler staff had only been occupied for 1% of their contracted, paid hours. The Government spent an initial £720 million on these contracts.

Now though, according to reports from news provider Byline Times, the Government is now seeking to remove big private consultancy firms from the management of Test and Trace, and is currently in the middle of a drive to recruit ‘in-house consultants’ instead. According to the journalistic platform, an email from a recruitment consultancy firm advertising 70 new roles in the Test and Trace programme states that daily renumeration peaks at £800 for nine of the most senior roles, gradually scaling down to £350 for the three most junior roles – while the majority of the positions offer a daily rate of between £600 and £400 – in a bid to yield better value for money.

The revelations follow emails leaked to The Telegraph, in which the Cabinet Office called on consultancies and trade associations to inform the Government’s plans to set up an in-house “Crown Consultancy.” While the consultants are not being paid for their work, the newspaper stated they would offer input into an “alpha pathfinder” for the new Crown Consultancy capability somewhere between January and August 2021. The report also noted that the emails of Civil Service Chief People Officer Rupert McNeil outlined plans to set up a “brand and platform” to provide capacity and skills to public bodies where it is needed.

The project is being led by Cabinet Office minister Lord Agnew, who has recently said the government's extensive use of external suppliers “infantilises the civil service,” while providing poor value for money. The plans, which were first reported in the Financial Times earlier in November, suggest external consultants would be used less frequently, and only for specific tasks.