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Test and Trace consultants paid equivalent of £1.5m salary

The government is paying individual private sector consultants million-pound wages to work on its test and trace system, according to documents seen by Sky News. 15 October, 2020

The government is paying individual private sector consultants million-pound wages to work on its test and trace system, according to documents seen by Sky News.

Some executives from Boston Consulting Group (BCG) helping the government set up and run its testing system are being paid day rates of around £7,000 - equivalent to an annual salary of around £1.5m.

While individual consultants may only receive a portion of that sum, it is still considerably more than than any other public sector worker.

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The revelation is the latest evidence of the expense of the government's testing scheme, which is budgeted to cost £12bn this year - making it one of the most expensive government programmes in recent years.

BCG is renowned as one of the most prestigious - and expensive - management consultancy groups in the world.

According to the documents, the government has paid BCG around £10m for a team of around 40 consultants to do four months' work on the testing system between the end of April and late August.

But while the government pays the consultancy, that fee is determined by the "day rates" of the individuals working for it.

BCG has a range of day rates for public sector work and while these are generally lower than the rates they charge in the private sector, they nonetheless range from £2,400 to £7,360 for the most senior consultants.

According to the documents seen by Sky News, BCG is giving the Department of Health and Social Care a 10-15% discount for its work, however this would still equate to day rates equivalent to a £1.5m annual salary.

The revelation comes amid growing consternation about the cost of Britain's COVID-19 testing system and question marks over value for money, given problems suffered by the system in recent months.

Labour MP Toby Perkins raised the matter during a House of Commons debate on contact-tracing on Wednesday afternoon.

"Occassionally you get a story that seems, in itself, to demonstrate a much wider point," he told MPs.

"And so it was today with the scoop revealed by Ed Conway of Sky News that the government is paying, on a daily rate, £7,360 per day to the management consultants at Boston Consulting Group, who are in charge of test and trace.

"Equivalent to a £1.5m salary to individuals as a day rate, to preside over this shambolic sight that is letting down all the people in my constituency and in so many others."

Mr Perkins called for "dedicated public servants" to be drafted into the test and trace system.

"You won't find dedicated public servants being paid £7,500 per day, you won't find them on £1.5m, 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," he said.

"And that is what we need right now in our system."

Referring to his previous career in the sales industry, Mr Perkins also told MPs: "I never came across a customer nearly as naive as what we have with the government."

"I just wish that at some point in my life I could have come across a customer with as much money as the government has, as willing to be so easily impressed as this government is, and as willing to give it to people and then defend the people who let them down as a supplier," he added.

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Last week, Sky News revealed that DHSC had more than a thousand consultants from Deloitte working on the programme, at day rates of as much as £2,360.

Sky News has now been shown separate documents revealing that the government has since recruited many more private sector consultants to work on its Moonshot testing programme, which aims to introduce mass COVID-19 testing for the UK.

We have seen documents which show 165 more consultants were drafted in to work on the new testing scheme between now and November.

They include 84 more consultants from Deloitte, 31 from EY and 50 from KPMG, with a further 42 roles potentially available for consultants, taking the total to 219.

None of these appointments has been announced publicly, no costings have been published and there is no information about how DHSC will secure value for money from the consultants.

According to data collected by information group Tussell, the total value of contracts awarded by the government in response to COVID-19 is running at £12.2bn - though this includes PPE contracts as well as those focused on the testing system.

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Boston Consulting Group declined to comment.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson responded: "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 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."

While Tamzen Isacsson, chief executive of industry body the Management Consultancies Association, told Sky News: "This has been a massive challenge for government.

"Within three weeks they were able to set up the booking system for Test & Trace, so having to respond at speed and at pace has required the government to bring in private sector expertise; technology capabilities that they just don't have to deliver this urgently for the country.

"The government, along with many other clients has really benefited from the ability of our sector to bring in multidisciplinary capabilities, highly skilled people and the capacity, overnight to meet some of those challenging requirements.

"In this unprecedented period, our sector has been proud to be supporting government in meeting the challenge of setting up Test & Trace."

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