The Labour party has called for audit giant Deloitte to be stripped of its contract to prepare NHS Test and Trace for a government inquiry into the handling of the pandemic, accusing it of a “blatant conflict of interest”.
Since the onset of the pandemic, Deloitte has won contracts advising the NHS Test and Trace programme worth £280m, according to figures from data provider Tussell.
And the Big Four firm has been awarded a further form a “knowledge management system in preparation for the public inquiry” that includes an “evidence generation strategy”, Private Eye first reported.
Labour party deputy leader Angela Rayner has called for the contract to be scrapped due to “blatant conflicts of interest” between Deloitte’s involvement with the actual Test and Trace programme, and now its role in preparing for the inquiry.
“Deloitte were paid hundreds of millions of pounds by Test and Trace so it is clearly completely wrong for the company to then be awarded a contract to mark their own homework and help prepare the strategy for dealing with the public inquiry into the government’s mishandling of the pandemic, including the failures of Test and Trace,” Rayner wrote in a letter today to cabinet office minister Steve Barclay.
“This sends a clear message that the government’s priority in the public inquiry will not be the openness, transparency and honesty that we need and that bereaved families deserve,” Rayner added.
It follows reports in March this year that government had been using Deloitte to help ministers draft parliamentary questions and media lines to defend the Test and Trace system.
Buried in their public sector contracts at the time were details of help with PR and communications, with a requirement to “draft and respond to parliamentary questions, Freedom of Information requests, media queries and other reactive requests” and to “support lines to take and Q&A’s in anticipation of queries.”
Is it typically a civil servant’s job to draft answers to parliamentary questions from MPs, and media lines are usually drafted in response to criticism of a particular policy by government officials.
In September it was revealed that Deloitte’s UK partners will pocket around £1m on average as the Big Four firm’s revenues saw a revival driven by the demand for their pandemic advisory and public sector work.
Average profit per equity partner jumped to £854,000 in the year to the end of May – its highest in over a decade. It had previously stood at £731,000 the year before.
The government has spent hundreds of millions of pounds on consultancy fees throughout the pandemic. There has been widespread criticism of the work, with grumblings centring on high fees and perceived poor work.
The government has also been accused of handing out contracts to close contacts of government ministers, and failing to advertise the huge tenders.
The findings raise questions about where the remit of consultants should end and if taxpayer money should be spent privately on jobs that could be carried out in-house.