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From The Socialist newspaper, 10 June 2020

Test-and-trace fiasco - the ringing of the cash till

Serco has been awarded a lucrative £45.8 million (possibly up to £90 million) test-and-trace contract with the National Health Service (NHS).

A leaked email from Serco's chief executive officer, Rupert Soames, reveals the company's desire to carve out a profitable slice of the NHS's funding cake.

"If it succeeds... it will go a long way in cementing the position of the private sector companies in the public sector supply chain," says Soames.

But, he cautioned: "There are a few, a noisy few, who would like to see us fail because we are private companies delivering a public service. I very much doubt that this is going to evolve smoothly, so they will have plenty of opportunity to say I told you so."

Soames is right to doubt Serco's ability to run the scheme. This "world beating" operation - which according to Boris Johnson should have been up and running by 1 June - according to its chief operating officer Tony Prestedge (previously a Santander banker), won't actually be functioning properly until "towards the September or October time".

Meanwhile, hardly a day passes without one of the 25,000 workers employed on the scheme expressing in media reports their frustration and disappointment over the lack of training and not having anything to do.

Soames is the brother of former Tory MP Nicholas Soames and grandson of the late Tory PM Winston Churchill. As a former member of the notorious Bullingdon Club at Oxford University, he must be used to trashing and screwing things.

Low-paid Barts health workers in 2017 on strike against penny-pinching global giant Serco, photo Paul Mattsson

Low-paid Barts health workers in 2017 on strike against penny-pinching global giant Serco, photo Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge)

'In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity'

If measures such as mass testing, contact tracing and quarantining had been implemented back in January, then tens of thousands of 'excess deaths' could have been avoided.

Johnson and co have compounded this catastrophe by ignoring existing public health structures in local government and primary health services to carry out testing and tracing. Instead, the government has dished out lucrative contracts to commercial companies. This includes Serco, which has a track record of public service delivery failure.

The government has handed out pandemic contracts worth more than £1 billion to 177 private companies, mostly without even going through the motion of public tendering, but instead awarding them directly using emergency powers.

Accountancy company Deloitte, along with fellow mega-accountancy firm KPMG, has been contracted to conduct testing. Both companies are already embedded in the NHS, having designed NHS Improvement, which oversees NHS trusts.

But results at the drive-through testing centres have gone missing or have been sent to the wrong people. Deloitte denies directly running such sites, but only "supporting" the roll-out of testing. However, following a catalogue of failures at the Chessington testing centre in Surrey, nearby Epsom hospital asked the health department that the hospital itself takes over the testing.

Deloitte has also been contracted to supply PPE. One manufacturer described Deloitte as "useless", while another said, cuttingly: "If there is a fire, you don't call the auditor, you call the fire service."

Some contracted companies have previously made political donations to the Tory party, such as Randox Laboratories, which donated £160,800 between 2011 and 2018. Randox, which employs Conservative MP Owen Paterson as a £100,000-a-year consultant, received a contract worth £133 million.

Serco, which has been awarded an initial £45.8 million contact tracing contract, sponsored an event at last year's Tory party conference.

Faculty, the AI company contracted to mine confidential patient data for the government's pandemic response, is closely connected with Johnson's notorious, poor-sighted chief advisor, Dominic Cummings. Also connected is Cabinet minister Lord Agnew, who has a reported £90,000 worth of shares in Faculty.

Serco - a toxic legacy of service delivery failure

As the Socialist has previously reported, Serco recently accidentally shared the contact details of 300 contact tracers, in breach of its own data protocols.

This cock-up is not a one-off. Last year it was fined almost £23 million in a settlement with the Serious Fraud Office over reportedly overcharging the government for offenders' electronic tagging.

In 2018, Serco's breast-cancer screening hotline failed to issue 450,000 women invitations to attend important screenings. It emerged that the hotline was being run by call handlers with only one hour's training.

Also that year, Serco planned to evict hundreds of asylum seekers from private accommodation in Glasgow without court orders.

In the summer of 2017, low-paid workers in Barts NHS Trust (members of Unite union, including Socialist Party members), employed by Serco, were engaged in months of bitter strike action to secure the London Living Wage.

Serco has its fingers in many government contract pies, including running six prisons and an immigration removal centre.

Serco posted revenues of £2.8 billion in 2018, and an underlying profit of £93.1 million.

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In The Socialist 10 June 2020:

Black Lives Matter

Fight racism and class inequality. "Seize the time!"

Black Lives Matter protests sweep country: How can the movement win?

Mass protests erupt

Black and white youth rise up against racism - US protester speaks to the Socialist

Capitalism = racism: "You fight capitalism with socialism"

"We're going to fight racism and capitalism with socialism"

France: 20,000 rally against Paris's killer gendarmes

Socialists call for trade unions to join the fight


Tories backtrack in England - Stand firm for school safety

Oppose the Welsh government's reckless return to school plan

Workplace news

Non-essential retail to open - Organise at work

Debenhams: Workers made to pay for Covid-19 crisis

Workers' union and campaign group fights Derby Rolls-Royce job cuts

Homerton Hospital - withdraw private contract


Test-and-trace fiasco - the ringing of the cash till

Coronavirus pandemic news in brief

BAME coronavirus deaths - an indictment of capitalist inequality

Lessons from history

Roosevelt's New Deal programme - reforms to save capitalism


Ken Douglas: A tireless and determined fighter for socialism

Campaigns and reports

Why we joined the Socialist Party

Donate so we can raise our socialist message

Domestic violence murder

Readers' opinion

As a health worker, I had to march against racism

Readers' opinion: Things will never be the same


Home   |   The Socialist 10 June 2020   |   Join the Socialist Party

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