MPs have reacted furiously to reports that the government is paying private sector consultants day rates of around £7,000 to help with its coronavirus test and trace system.
Sky News said it has seen documents revealing Boston Consulting Group (BCG) was paid about £10m for around 40 consultants to provide four months’ work between the end of April and late August.
The broadcaster said the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) received a 10 to 15% discount from BCG, whose day rates for public sector work range from £2,400 to £7,360 for the most senior consultants.
Responding to the reports on Wednesday evening, Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner tweeted: ”What an absolute shower. Yet the government apparently can’t pay social care workers the real living wage? Difficult decisions.”
Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “The figures being spent on this broken system are truly shocking.”
He added: “Testing and contact tracing is failing to keep the virus under control, which makes it even more disgraceful that such huge sums of money are being spent on something that isn’t fit for purpose.”
Sarah Wollaston, former MP and health and social care select committee chair, said: “This would be excessive even if Test & Trace had been a success but given the dire performance, why hasn’t anyone taken responsibility or been sacked for this?”
Raising the consultant payments reports in the Commons, Labour MP Toby Perkins said: “You won’t find dedicated public servants being paid £7,500 a day.”
He added: “But what you will find is a basic competence, a knowledge of their area, a desire to make sure that the systems work before they are implemented.
“And that is what we need right now in our system.
Ashworth reiterated Labour’s call for a “short circuit-break” lockdown to “fix the failing test and trace system and to ultimately save lives”.
Meanwhile, Liberal Democrat MP Munira Wilson commented: “Just imagine how far that money would go if it was given to local authorities.
“They are paying these consultants the weekly equivalent of what a nurse earns in a year.”
This comes amid ongoing criticism of the government’s £12bn test and trace system.
The DHSC said efforts to set up NHS Test and Trace required it to work with public and private sector partners, with “every pound spent” going towards keeping people safe and ramping up testing capacity.
Major companies such as Deloitte, PwC and BCG have been working on the government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, managing the track and trace system, the purchase of personal protective equipment (PPE) and the search to produce working ventilators.
Sky News reported last week that more than a thousand consultants from Deloitte were working on the NHS Test and Trace programme, on day rates of as much as £2,360.
The broadcaster said documents showed the government had since hired more private sector consultants to work on its Moonshot mass testing programme.
Some 165 consultants were recruited to work on the scheme between now and November, Sky News said. This includes 84 more from Deloitte, 31 from EY and 50 from KPMG, with a further 42 roles potentially available for consultants.
Tamzen Isacsson, chief executive of the Management Consultancies Association (MCA), said a large number of consultancy firms had been brought in during the pandemic to support “critical government projects”, including NHS Test and Trace.
“The consulting sector has provided multi-disciplinary capabilities and senior experience very quickly to support government and has helped deal with complex negotiations around data, infrastructure and procurement at pace,” she said.
Isacsson said MCA member firms used by the government had been procured through “competitively tendered Crown Commercial Service frameworks which evaluate bidding firms against quality and cost criteria”.
Contracts required firms to “upskill civil servants” and “transfer knowledge”, Isacsson said.
She added: “We should remember that government is dealing with an unprecedented volume of workload and major upheaval due to Covid-19 and using external resources has enabled them to work quickly and with intensity in many areas.”
A DHSC spokesperson said: “NHS Test and Trace is the biggest testing system per head of population of all the major countries in Europe.
“It’s processing 270,000 tests a day and nearly 700,000 people who may otherwise have unknowingly been at risk of spreading coronavirus have been contacted.
“To build the largest diagnostic network in British history, it requires us to work with both public and private sector partners with the specialist skills and experience we need.
“Every pound spent is contributing towards our efforts to keep people safe as we ramp up testing capacity to 500,000 tests a day by the end of October.”
BCG declined to comment.