Whitehall scrambles private sector to avoid second wave disaster

The documents warned that the task force, which has about 200 staff and directs the Government’s pandemic response, is often unable to adapt at pace or with the required skill level while also dealing with “leaving the European Union and other policy priorities”.

Nick Davies of the Institute for Government warned against hiring mid-level staff to work over a prolonged period at the centre of the civil service on crucial issues.

He said: “The Government should have built up capacity sooner, particularly as it has been clear for some time that the challenges of dealing with the pandemic would not be over by the end of the Brexit transition period.”

Sources said that ministers have also called in more contractors to fill gaps on NHS Test and Trace because civil servants do not want to work on the project, which they see as physically draining and a dead end for career development. 

One consulting insider said: “There were massive vacancies for civil servants on the Test and Trace project and they just couldn’t get people to apply because it was seen as career limiting. 

“People are absolutely killing themselves on that project for seven days a week, 18 hour days and they had vacancies but they were not getting any applications. So the latest round of consultancies has been trying to fill some of those urgent vacancy roles.”

The new contracts are in addition to previous awards to consultants such as Deloitte, which was called in early in the pandemic to work on boosting testing capacity. More than 30 consulting firms are now working on NHS Test and Trace. 

A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said the number of civil servants working on Test and Trace is now increasing.

He said: “To build the biggest testing system per head of population of all the major countries in Europe as rapidly as we have done, the skills and expertise of both public and private sector partners were required.”

The Cabinet Office did not respond to a request for comment. 

A spokesman for the Management Consultancies Association said firms had stepped in quickly to help secure supply chains, build Nightingale hospitals, source PPE and create a coronavirus testing system from scratch.

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