NEWS
23/09/2020 08:06 BST | Updated 23/09/2020 09:50 BST

Labour Voices Alarm Over 'Failing' US Firm Subcontracted For NHS Test And Trace

Shadow cabinet minister Rachel Reeves says the government has "serious questions to answer" over Concentrix's involvement in the service.

Labour has said ministers have “serious questions” to answer after reports a “failing” US firm that botched the handling of tax credits has been subcontracted for some NHS Test and Trace services.

Shadow chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Rachel Reeves said Concentrix’s involvement showed a lack of due diligence over the running of the service.

In August 2019, four staff at a Concentrix-operated fraud call centre were suspended after allegations that victims were branded “morons” and misled into thinking they were dealing with police when they phoned to report what happened to them.

The allegations were said to have taken place at the Action Fraud call centre which handles reports from victims across England, Wales and Northern Ireland and is run by the City of London Police.

Concentrix was also stripped of its HMRC contract in 2018 after nearly a third of the 108,000 tax credit claimants it adjusted or terminated had the decisions overturned at appeal, PA Media report.

The company was subcontracted by Serco which alongside Sitel, runs NHS Test and Trace through a contract reported to be worth up to £108 million.

It has faced a barrage of criticism about performance and value for money in recent weeks.

Thirty-five organisations are listed as “data processors” involved in the NHS Test and Trace system but only four are NHS bodies. Four are Lighthouse Labs.

A further four are Public Health England bodies and another is the Ministry of Defence.

The remaining 22 are private companies. This does not include companies such as Concentrix that are subcontracted.

Coronavirus tests have been unavailable in some areas, tracing of those who need to self-isolate has consistently been below the benchmark of 80% in recent weeks and only a third of people who turn up for a test in England are receiving results within 24 hours, according to the latest data.

Labour shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth, speaking in the Commons last week, accused Serco of “failing to trace 80% of contacts” and asked the government when “poor-performing outsourcing firms” could expect to see their contracts ripped up.

The party has now called into question the reported decision by Serco, who took on the contract in July, to hire Concentrix to provide staff for its operation.

Despite the chequered history with government contracts, Politics Home reported that Concentrix has been brought in by Serco to help fulfil its Test and Trace contract.

Reeves said: “As if continuing outsourcing to a company with such a bad track record wasn’t enough, this government didn’t even ensure that those it was subcontracting were up to the job.

“Instead of outsourcing to tier upon tier of private companies, this Tory government should have put money into our public services which know local communities better, and are far more efficient.

“With the testing system on the brink of collapse when we need it most, the government has serious questions to answer on why this subcontractor – embroiled in scandal and with a track record of failing government services – was given responsibility for part of one of the most systems in our country.”

A Department of Health spokesperson said it could cancel contracts with private businesses if they were not performing.

She said: “The public expects us to be doing everything we can to respond to this unprecedented global pandemic – this includes working with a wide range of public and private sector partners.

“Proper due diligence is carried out for all government contracts, we take these checks extremely seriously and all contracts also have break clauses in them, meaning if the company does not meet required service levels we can cancel the contracts and reclaim taxpayers money.”

Serco has been approached for comment.