Campaigners staged a protest outside a town hall over a private contractor being used to test and trace Covid-19 infections.
The demonstration outside Wandsworth Town Hall on Tuesday, August 18 was over Serco’s involvement in England’s test, track and trace system.
Campaigners are calling for the Government to end Serco’s contract and instead use the money allocated to it to fund local public health protection teams to manage test, track and trace.
The protest took place alongside more than a dozen others in cities across England including Sheffield, Bristol and Liverpool and comes just five days before Serco’s initial contract to manage the system expires.
Organiser Lois Davis said: “As a teacher I’m painfully aware that keeping our schools and colleges open safely depends on an efficient locally managed track & trace system.
“I don’t feel safe with Serco. I’d sooner put my trust in the council and local people who have supported us all so well during lockdown. “
The protest is taking place in the aftermath of the Government’s announced changes to the system. Previously, the centralised call centres operated separately from local public health teams. Under the new system, a small number of staff from the central call handling system will work on specific areas alongside local public health officials.
This can be followed up by local teams if national callers cannot reach the person. Campaign group We Own It, which is co-ordinating the events nationally, has called for the Government to not give “a penny more” to Serco.
Pascale Robinson, campaigner with We Own It said: “Serco has already received over £100million pounds of public money. And for what? A privatised national test, track and trace system that disregards regional experience and has totally failed. It’s not keeping us safe, so Serco shouldn’t receive a penny more for their failures.
“The evidence is abundantly clear – the privatised national test, track and trace system has catastrophically failed. So it’s right that the Government has recognised that a new approach is needed. But a system where national call centre staff managed by a private company make the initial call and local teams can escalate later just isn’t fit for purpose.
“Instead, we need a localised system run by the people who know what they’re doing and can deliver it effectively. That means we can’t continue with the farce of Serco heading up the programme. Local councils and Public Health England teams must be given the £30 million currently allocated for potential contract extensions with Serco. That’s what people across the country are demanding.”
Serco has faced heavy criticism for its handling of the system. Its record on reaching contacts in the same household stands at just 52 per cent.
In May, the company accidentally shared the contact details of 296 of its tracers.
The protest also comes after recent polling found that just 15 per cent of the public want private companies in charge of the system, compared to two thirds who think local public health teams should be.
Health minister Edward Argar last week insisted it was a “successful system” and would be strengthened by giving more powers to local public health teams. “We’ve always said that this system would evolve,” he said.
“We have reached in the past 10 weeks, since this was set up pretty much from scratch, around a quarter of a million people – that’s a quarter of a million chains of transmission that have been broken by this.”
The chief executive of Serco, Rupert Soames, said people won’t answer numbers from cold callers.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “If somebody rang you now and said ‘tell me everybody that you have met, been in contact with in the last 48 hours and tell me on the telephone, give me their contact details’, how many do you think you’d be able to reel-off, off the top of your head?
“And the fact is about 20 per cent of the contacts that people give us [are] ‘I know I sat next to somebody on a bus on the way in but I don’t have their contact details. I’m sorry, my brother-in-law brought round a friend last night. I don’t have their contact details’.”
Pictured: Campaigners staged a protest outside Wandsworth town hall
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