Local government should lead the ‘test and track’ programme after Serco’s ‘failure’, says Unite

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From the Unite website – www.unitethunion.org

Money earmarked for controversial outsourcing companies to provide ‘test and trace’ for Covid-19 should be immediately diverted to local government as the best vehicle to reach those who may be affected.

The call came from Unite, Britain and Ireland’s largest union which has 200,000 members across local government and the health service, as demands mounted for contracts with Serco and Sitel to provide a national privatised ‘test and trace’ service to be cancelled.

Unite said that local government, which in its modern form stretching back 130 years had long experience of delivering public health initiatives, should be the recipient of increased Whitehall spending.

The union said such a redirection of funding could herald ‘a renaissance in local government’, which already held the public health portfolio, such as health visiting and school nursing services.

Unite national officer for local government Jim Kennedy said: “This foolhardy and expensive reliance on private sector companies by the Tory government to deliver a comprehensive ‘test and trace’ programme is just another example of a misguided outsourcing policy that includes the ignominious failure of G4S to provide adequate security for the 2012 Olympics.

“Local government has a proven history going back to the end of the 19th century for delivering public health initiatives to local communities – it is a scandal that it has been by-passed up to now in favour of controversial outscoring companies where shareholders’ profits trump the public good.

“A new lucrative contract for Serco should be scrapped. Ministers should not fork out millions of taxpayers’ money when the decision is due later this month. Serco has failed spectacularly to find and isolate coronavirus cases in sufficient numbers. 

“While not suggesting any impropriety, it should be noted that the health minister Edward Argar worked as a Serco lobbyist before entering parliament and Serco CEO Rupert Soames is the brother of Tory grandee and former MP Sir Nicholas Soames.

“Local government knows its communities and their diverse populations, and its trusted staff are well-suited to knocking on doors to talk to people about Covid-19 as opposed to workers in a remote call centre – and the results, according to the latest figures, are considerably better.

“Boris Johnson’s so-called pledge to have a ‘world beating test and trace’ system in place by June joins the promise of an ‘oven ready Brexit’ in the dustbin of empty rhetoric.”

Unite said that the overall’ test and trace’ policy would fail unless government agreed to pay the wages of those who were forced to self-isolate for two weeks.

Next Tuesday (18 August), Unite is holding a day of action when members will be asked to visit a Serco site and take a picture or a video along with placards saying ‘Serco failed the test – local  public health pass the test’.

Serco’s contract is up for renewal on 23 August.