Test and Trace consultants come under further scrutiny

23 November 2021 Consultancy.uk 5 min. read

After more than a year of controversy surrounding the public money spent on consultants for the Government’s misfiring coronavirus app, it has emerged that almost 2,000 consultants are still being paid to work on the UK’s Test and Trace service. The news follows repeated promises from ministers to scale back its reliance on professional services firms.

In a time of crisis, very little can be taken for granted, and indeed throughout the pandemic, there have been few constants. In a period where consultants were initially worried of a potential collapse in fees, however, the industry will have taken some comfort from being the beneficiary of one of the rare, remaining givens. No matter the amount of public or political condemnation, the UK Government has remained steadfast in its commitment to farm out lucrative work to private consultants, as part of its coronavirus response.

Even when the Government seemingly cedes ground, and bows to pressure, its solutions to spending on consultants inevitably involve the turning to more consultants for support. As the Government faced calls to rein in its spending on consultants, it was revealed that the Cabinet Office called in management consultants to give advice on how government can reduce its reliance on consultants. According to emails leaked to The Telegraph, the department called on consultancies and trade associations to inform the government’s plans to set up an in-house “Crown Consultancy.”

Test and Trace consultants come under further scrutiny

Meanwhile, the UK’s floundering ‘Test and Trace’ service has, according to critics, been basically designed and run by management consultants for the past year – and with disastrous results. In September 2020, around 90% of coronavirus test results were failing to reach recipients in 24 hours – as officials sought to reduce the chances of patients infecting further members of the public. The solution to this was that hundreds of consultants were been lined up to help the Government fortify its plans, as the troubled system continues to face claims that it is “barely functional.”

One year later, a Commons Committee in the Houses of Parliament has found that the Test and Trace system continued to fail in cutting infection levels, despite an “eye-watering” £37 billion in funding. Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, Meg Hillier, added “the continued reliance on the over-priced consultants who ‘delivered’ this state of affairs will by itself cost the taxpayer hundreds of millions of pounds.” In response, the Government announced a public inquiry on the failures – but as reported by Private Eye, still managed to appoint consultants for the process.

Consultants all the way down

Private Eye noted that outsourcing and consulting giant Deloitte had been handed a contract to prepare Test and Trace for the public inquiry. According to the report, Deloitte was tasked with creating a “knowledge management system in preparation for the public inquiry”, including an “evidence generation strategy.” The news saw opposition figures already call into question the proposed report’s independence, alleging a conflict of interest, as Deloitte’s own website had already celebrated the role its staff played in Test and Trace’s operations – with employees being paid up to £6,000 a day and Deloitte, earning £1 million per day in fees.

Parliamentary correspondence has revealed that the service still pays nearly 2,000 consultants despite repeated promises to reduce its use of private external firms. Letters sent to the Public Accounts Committee show average rates of £1,100 a day, but some consultants were paid as much as £6,600 a day, putting Deloitte in the upper bracket. With that being said, the firm is not the only one tied to the latest outcry over consulting spend by the Government.

In particular, Boston Consulting Group (BCG) has raised ire among the British press for living high and wide during its work with Test and Trace. BCG was reportedly paid £28 million for its work on the service. As reported by the Daily Mail, bosses at the firm held a cocktail party earlier in the autumn, just weeks before the Test and Trace app would be admonished by MPs. While the event was not likely just to celebrate bringing in money from the project – but the wider success of BCG this year – the “glitzy occasion” seems to have come at the worst possible time – as Partners and their significant others enjoyed pricey drinks, a sit-down dinner, and a string quartet.

Lord John Mann told the Mail in response, “It is appalling. Them throwing a party – they should be should be throwing a party for NHS workers.”

However, not everyone was as quick to condemn the work of consultants. Following the release of the Public Accounts Committee report, Dr Jenny Harries, the Chief Executive of the UK Health Security Agency, now responsible for Test and Trace, said the organisation had a “very detailed ramp-down plan” to reduce the number of consultants by the end of next March.

She added, “NHS Test and Trace has played an essential role in combating this pandemic. As the Public Accounts committee acknowledges, there have been improvements in testing capacity, turnaround times and speed and reach of contact tracing – and improved collaboration with local authorities. The fact is, NHS Test and Trace is saving lives every single day and helping us fight Covid-19 by breaking chains of transmission and spotting outbreaks wherever they exist.”