HomeCoronavirusSerco wins Covid-19 test-and-trace contract despite £1m fine

Serco wins Covid-19 test-and-trace contract despite £1m fine

Serco, one of the companies that has secured a lucrative government contract for the Covid contact-tracing programme, was fined more than £1m for failures on another government contract just months ago, the Observer has learned.

The revelation has led to campaigners against the privatisation of public services to call for the £45.8m test-and-trace contract to be cancelled.

Serco has a range of government contracts both in the UK and overseas, much of it focused on criminal justice and immigration. It has already had to apologise after breaching data protection rules on its test-and-trace contract by inadvertently revealing the email addresses of new recruits. The junior health minister, Edward Argar, is a former Serco lobbyist.

Rupert Soames, grandson of Sir Winston Churchill, is chief executive of Serco. Photograph: David Levene/The Guardian

Serco, whose chief executive is Rupert Soames, grandson of Sir Winston Churchill, is one of a number of companies that has contracts with the Home Office to provide accommodation for asylum seekers. As a result of failures in this contract in 2019, Serco was fined more than £1m by the government, but no breakdown of the failures has been disclosed in a freedom of information response obtained by the Scottish Refugee Council after a six-month battle.

This latest fine does not appear to have hampered Serco’s ability to win a raft of government contracts in recent months. According to the company’s website, alongside the test-and-trace contract, it secured an £800m 10-year prisoner escort-and-custody contract in October 2019, and in February this year a new contract, valued at £200m, to manage two immigration removal centres close to Gatwick airport .

Serco has received larger fines in the past, notably more than £19m as part of a settlement with the Serious Fraud Office over failures in electronic tagging dating back to 2010.

Cat Hobbs, the director of We Own It, which campaigns against the privatisation of public services, said: “The public will be outraged to hear this latest news of a further fine. We call on the government to cancel Serco’s contracts and bring test, track and trace into local, expert public sector hands.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “As part of an unprecedented response to this pandemic, we have drawn on the expertise and resources of a number of public and private sector partners to support our NHS and social care sector.” ”

A Serco spokesperson said: “Service credits are a natural part of undertaking a demanding and rigorous contract such as Compass [housing people seeking asylum].” Service credits are sums deducted from a company’s monthly invoice when it fails to meet key performance indicators.

The spokesperson added: “However, it showed significant improvements … and Serco developed a strong reputation for service delivery.”


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