Labour urges government to abandon Serco and back local contact tracing

Local teams reached 97.1% of close contacts while Serco only reached 68.6% in the latest weekly stats

The Labour Party has today called on the government to ditch the failing Serco test and trace system and let councils and local health protection teams run contact tracing.

It comes after SAGE confirmed that the largely privatised system is only having a “marginal impact” on transmission of the coronavirus.

The system has already been blighted with failure. In the latest weekly statistics, only two thirds of those testing positive transferred onto the system so just 68.6% of these people’s close contacts were reached.

This is the lowest weekly figure since Test and Trace began, and is down from 72.5% the previous week. In contrast, local health protection teams reached 97.1% of close contacts. Over the last few months, a number of local authorities have seen much higher success rates as has those achieved by the Welsh Government’s local public sector-led response.

Labour will use its Opposition Day Debate today to raise the consistently high performance of local contact tracing systems when compared with the centralised system established by the Government and highlight the huge sums of public money spent so far on large private companies.

It is also calling for additional funding available for contact tracing in Tier 3 areas to be transferred to all parts of the country, and for councils and local public health teams to be given the resources and powers they need to carry out contact tracing and to effectively work in partnership with other local public services.

Rachel Reeves MP, Labour’s Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Shadow Cabinet Office Minister, said: “For months, Labour has been asking this government to put contact tracing into the hands of councils and local public health teams who know their own communities better than anyone.

“In the face of all the evidence, the Tories are continuing with a system that rewards failure by handing enormous sums of money to big companies such as Serco and Sitel.

“This approach has defied the experience around the world, left underfunded public services to clear up the mess days later and made our communities vulnerable to rising infection rates.

“The government should look at the science, follow Labour’s call to bring in a circuit break and transfer control of contact tracing to local authorities, so that we can better protect people’s lives and livelihoods.”

Pascale Robinson, campaigns officer at We Own It said: “We’re all agreed that if we’re to get out of this crisis safely, to see our family and hug our loved ones again, we need a functioning and effective test, track and trace system. Sadly, what we’ve got is anything but functional. 

“The government has turned the system into a disaster – a disjointed, chaotic and shambolic mess. That’s because the government decided to put private companies Serco and Sitel in charge of contact trace, who have shown themselves completely incapable of running the system.

“Meanwhile, local public health teams have demonstrated that they can in fact manage test, track and trace, but have been hampered by chronic underfunding. 

“It’s time for the government to face reality, and kick the private companies out of the system, giving local public health teams the resources they need to run it instead.”

Lucy Skoulding is a freelance reporter at Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter. 

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