Revealed: Serco Under Fire Over Fresh £90m COVID-19 Contract

The firm that ruined the Beacon Park Golf Course and can’t even water the greens,

that is in charge of England’s ‘track and trace’ now responsible for supporting vulnerable people during the pandemic, is Serco. MPs and campaigners say the decision is ‘outrageous’. Revealed by openDemocracy

“Outsourcing giant Serco have been awarded a multimillion-pound contract by the Department for Work and Pensions to provide emergency contact centre services for vulnerable people who are self-isolating during the coronavirus outbreak, an investigation by openDemocracy can reveal.

“Serco has been promised an initial fee of £45.8 million but this could rise to as much as £90 million. The government published details of the contract only on 30 April – more than a month after it had awarded the contract and after work had already begun.

“The global contracting firm plays a central role in the UK’s pandemic response despite coming under heavy criticism for its work so far. The contact tracing system – which Serco is leading – launched this week but is not expected to be fully operational until the end of the June. Last week, Labour called for an investigation after it emerged that Serco had accidentally shared the email addresses of hundreds of contract tracers.

“Responding to openDemocracy’s investigation, opposition MPs have demanded that the government explain why Serco has been given another major contract – and this time one that makes the company responsible for giving crucial support to the most vulnerable citizens. Serco itself has declined to comment.

“Serco landed the DWP contract for an “emergency capacity contact centre” through an existing framework agreement with the department. It is unclear whether other companies were allowed to bid for the works.

“openDemocracy asked the government to clarify the procurement process and the scope of works that Serco is carrying out – but the DWP declined to answer our questions. Instead, the department has insisted we raise a freedom of information request, a lengthy process with no guarantee of an answer.

“The government has been criticised for handing out COVID-19 contracts worth more than £1 billion to private-sector firms without tenders. British manufacturers accused another company, Deloitte, of being “useless” after the consultancy was charged with procuring personal protective equipment (PPE).

“Serco, which sponsored an event at last year’s Conservative Party conference, has also faced heavy criticism for its role in the UK’s pandemic response. Serco is overseeing the crucial track-and-trace system that has been launched today. But people it has recruited to work as contract tracers have already complained about a lack of training and guidance.

“Earlier this month, Serco was condemned after it accidentally shared the contact details of 300 contact tracers. The error has led to calls for an urgent investigation into the “alarming” incident. At the beginning of May, the Daily Mirror exposed a company subcontracting for Serco on the National Shielding Helpline that was pressurising workers to abandon social distancing rules. The subcontractor had asked workers to sign waivers clearing it of blame if they became sick.

Cat Hobbs, director of campaign group We Own It

said “Serco is the last company we want supporting vulnerable people in this crisis. It has a long track record of putting profit first and damaging people’s lives. It’s outrageous that this company has been given even more responsibility. Relying on unaccountable outsourcing companies is a bad habit the government needs to drop. Investing in the NHS and direct public service provision is the only way we’ll get out of this crisis safely”.

 Serco declined openDemocracy’s requests for comment. As they would?

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