Consultancy bosses whose firm pocketed millions of pounds of taxpayers' cash from the 'eye-wateringly expensive' NHS Test and Trace system held a boozy cocktail party just weeks before MPs savaged the project's failure.
Management at Boston Consulting Group in London devoured pricey drinks at the glamourous October 8 bash in the capital.
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The glitzy occasion, attended by BCG partners and their significant others also took in a lavish sit-down dinner.
One picture from the event showed at least 30 drinks lined up on the bar ready to be quaffed by the partygoers.
Another featured a string quartet playing music dressed in glitter-covered dresses seated inside the cavernous venue.
A guest described it as 'amazing' and praised the extraordinary central London venue and its drinks.
But questions were raised over whether a firm given so much taxpayers' cash should be celebrating in such an ostentation way.
A source told MailOnline: 'On the day the Government's Public Accounts Committee has blasted Test and Trace for wasting so much money on consultants, this is a look that is difficult to swallow.'
Management at Boston Consulting Group in London devoured pricey drinks at the bash
A string quartet playing music dressed in glitter-covered dresses seated inside the venue
The glitzy occasion in London was attended by BCG partners and their significant others
The NHS Test and Trace system was run at the time by TalkTalk boss Baroness Harding
BCG declined to comment when approached by MailOnline over the party,
It came after the company was handed £28million from the Government's Covid tracking service to populate missing workers for the project.
It is understood to be contracted to carry out at least another £2million worth of work.
Today the influential PAC said the NHS-branded, but not affiliated, tracing project had been 'overly reliant on expensive contractors and temporary staff'.
It added it 'Had not achieved its main objective to help break chains of COVID-19 transmission and enable people to return towards a more normal way of life'
Incredibly despite committing to reduce consultants – paid an average of £1,100 a day – the service employed more in April 2021 (2,239) than in December 2020 (2,164).
The organisation, previously led by former TalkTalk boss Baroness Harding, also had 'muddled' objectives, the Public Accounts Committee said.
The £37billion NHS Test and Trace service has been an 'eye-wateringly expensive' failure, a damning report by MPs claims
NHS Test and Trace consultancy contracts revealed and their pay so far
£298million, £174million paid so far
IBM United Kingdom Limited
£46million, £21million paid so far
Accenture (UK) Limited
£30million, £18million paid so far
The Boston Consulting Group UK LLP
£30million, £ 28million paid so far
PA Consulting Services Limited
£30million, £10million paid so far
Zuhlke Engineering Limited
£25million, £12million paid so far
Bramble Hub Limited
£17million, £8million paid so far
BAE Systems Applied Intelligence Limited
£15million, £8million paid so far
McKinsey & Company Inc. United Kingdom
£14million £12million paid so far
Ernst and Young LLP
£12million, £9million paid so far
The highest was to Deloitte LLP who were awarded a £300million contract, with IBM United Kingdom Limited second on the list with a £46million deal.
Next were Accenture (UK) Limited, BCG and PA Consulting Services Limited who each got £30million contracts.
Zuhlke Engineering Limited got a £25million deal, Bramble Hub Limited got a £17million agreement and BAE Systems Applied Intelligence Limited was contracted for £15million of work.
McKinsey & Company Inc. United Kingdom got £14million while Ernst and Young LLP closed the top ten of those contracted with £12million.
Back in August last year Wolfgang Emmerich, CEO & Partner at Zuhlke Group, Tweeted of his pride in the work they had done on the tracing app.
He said: 'The large team from Zuhlke Group that built this new app are very proud of having reached this important milestone for the Test and Trace programme.'
Spending on Test and Trace is equal to nearly a fifth of the 2020/21 NHS England budget.
Just 45 per cent of testing capacity was used between November 2020 and April 2021, and at times as few as 11 per cent of contact centre staff were being utilised.
Only 96million of 691million lateral flow tests it distributed were registered. And it 'is not clear what benefit the remaining 595million tests have secured'.
The programme was championed by the then Health Secretary Matt Hancock, whilst Prime Minister Boris Johnson described it as 'world-beating'.
Committee chairman Dame Meg Hillier said: 'It set out bold ambitions but has failed to achieve them despite the vast sums thrown at it.'
Meanwhile, the professor who helped create the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab has said it is unfair to 'bash the UK' over high numbers of Covid cases – around 40,000 a day in recent weeks.
The programme was championed by the then Health Secretary Matt Hancock, whilst Prime Minister Boris Johnson described it as 'world-beating'
The damning report's main conclusions
- NHS Test and Trace 'has not achieved its main objective to help break chains of Covid-19 transmission and enable people to return towards a more normal way of life'.
- The programme's 'continued over-reliance on consultants is likely to cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of pounds'.
- Uptake of services provided by Test and Trace is 'variable' and 'only a minority of people experiencing Covid-19 symptoms get a test', with some groups less likely to take tests compared with others.
- The programme's laboratories approach and contact centre usage is 'still not flexible enough to meet changing demand and risks wasting public money'.
Professor Sir Andrew Pollard said: 'If you look across western Europe, we have about ten times more tests done each day than some other countries.'
The damning report has been published just ahead of Chancellor Rishi Sunak's Budget, where he will lay out the details of the recently-announced £6billion funding boost for the NHS.
It details how the Test and Trace system failed to hit set targets and that spending on consultants was out of control.
Mr Hancock had promised that the system would allow the Government to avoid the use of national lockdowns and instead get the contacts of people who had contracted Covid-19 to isolate.
The report also details how less than half of contact tracers who had been hired were ever in use at any one time.
It said: '[NHS Test and Trace] has a 50 per cent target utilisation rate for its contact centre staff, but the highest reached was 49 per cent at the beginning of January 2021 and this had fallen to 11 per cent by the end of February 2021.
'Over Christmas 2020, when there appeared to be spare laboratory capacity and Covid-19 cases were rising, performance declined and it took longer to provide test results, with only 17 per cent of people receiving test results within 24 hours in December 2020.'
Of the near-700million lateral flow tests which were distributed by NHS Test and Trace, only 14 per cent were registered online – something which is essential for the spread of coronavirus to be tracked.
Dame Meg Hillier said NHS Test and Trace failed to live up to its 'bold' ambitions
From TalkTalk to Test and Trace: Dido Harding's journey to leading UK's 'most wasteful public spending programme of all time'
Dido Harding first achieved notoriety in 2010 as chief executive of telecoms group TalkTalk.
During her time in charge she was twice given MoneyMail's 'wooden spoon' award for having the most appalling customer service of any British company.
It was handed record fines by the regulator Ofcom for over-billing and in 2015 fell victim to a cyber attack in which 157,000 clients had their data stolen, causing 100,000 of them to leave, company profits to halve and TalkTalk's shares to lose two-thirds of their value,
Harding, 53, who had by then been elevated to the House of Lords as Baroness Harding of Winscombe by old university friend David Cameron — an ally of her Tory MP husband John Penrose — was eased out of her £2.7 million-a-year role in 2017, only to be immediately handed a new job chairing the powerful hospital regulator NHS Improvement.
Then came another big promotion: last May, the Prime Minister put Harding in charge of Test and Trace, promising that this would help free Britain from the shackles of coronavirus.
Despite its huge budget, with the 2,500 consultants on its payroll earning an average of £1,000 a day, Harding's organisation has 'failed to make a measurable difference to the progress of the pandemic', according to a February report by the Commons Public Accounts Committee.
The grandee Lord Macpherson, former head of HM Treasury, has dubbed it 'the most wasteful and inept public spending programme of all time'.
A damning National Audit Office report also found that Test and Trace was still struggling to get to grips with the basics of its job.
Harding quit Test and Trace, defending the service from criticism by saying the exceptions were 'set too high'.
She also said Covid testing in the UK was now 'the envy of the world'.
Earlier this year it was revealed Harding had applied to become the new head of the NHS, after Sir Simon Stevens leaves his role.
But reports suggested that after Matt Hancock's resignation amid revelations of an affair with an aide, that Harding she was 'unlikely' to get the role,
The committee also criticised handling of the cash, highlighting that the programme has still not managed to reduce the number of expensive contractors - who are paid an average of £1,100 per day - and has not developed a 'flexible' approach to using laboratories, which 'risks wasting public money'.
Test and Trace's 'continued over-reliance on consultants is likely to cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of pounds', the report states.
It has been focused on getting programmes up and running and 'paid less attention to ensuring these programmes delivered the benefits they promised', it adds.
And uptake of services provided by the programme is 'variable' as some vulnerable people are much less likely to take a test than others.
MPs on the cross-party committee said that as the programme is moved into the new UK Health Security Agency it needs a 'proper long-term strategy'.
Dame Hillier added: 'The continued reliance on the over-priced consultants who 'delivered' this state of affairs will by itself cost the taxpayer hundreds of millions of pounds.
'For this huge amount of money we need to see a legacy system ready to deliver when needed but it's just not clear what there will be to show in the long term. This legacy has to be a focus for government if we are to see any value for the money spent.'
MPs have set out a series of recommendations and suggested improvements to the programme.
The Test and Trace programme was rapidly developed at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, spearheaded by Baroness Harding, with the objective of testing the nation and tracing contacts of positive cases.
Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), said in a statement: 'NHS Test and Trace (NHSTT) has played an essential role in combating this pandemic.
'As the Public Accounts Committee acknowledges, there have been improvements in testing capacity, turnaround times and speed and reach of contact tracing - and improved collaboration with local authorities.
'The fact is NHSTT is saving lives every single day and helping us fight Covid-19 by breaking chains of transmission and spotting outbreaks wherever they exist.
'More than 323 million tests have now been carried out across the UK. NHSTT has now contacted more than 19.9 million people, helping to slow the spread of the virus.
A government spokesman said: 'NHS Test & Trace has delivered on what it set out to do - break chains of transmission and save lives.
'To date, over 323 million tests have been delivered and almost 20 million people contacted who could otherwise have unknowingly transmitted the virus.
'We have rightly drawn on the extensive expertise of a number of public and private sector partners who have been invaluable in helping us tackle the virus.
'We've built a testing network from scratch that can process millions of tests a day - more than any European country - providing a free LFD or PCR test to anybody who needs one.
'The new UK Health Security Agency will consolidate the knowledge that now exists across our health system to help us tackle future pandemics and threats.'