Management consultants are being paid as much as £6,250 a day to work on the British government’s struggling coronavirus testing system, sources have confirmed.
Senior executives from Boston Consulting Group (BCG) are being paid fees equivalent to £1.5m a year to help speed up and reorganise the £12bn network that Boris Johnson said in May would be “world-beating”.
The figures, first disclosed by Sky News, come amid growing concern about the cost of the UK’s Covid-19 testing system, which has been criticised for being slow, disorganised and unable to cope with rising demand.
BCG, one of the largest and most prestigious consultancies in the world, charged £10m for 40 people to work on the virus test-and-trace programme over the course of four months, a source with knowledge of the contract said.
Individual consultants from the firm could earn £2,400 a day; the most senior consultants up to £7,360, sources confirmed. BCG then offered discounts of between 10% and 15% on different parts of the project.
Publicly available data collated by the Spend Network show that BCG has been awarded contracts worth at least £18.3m for work related to the pandemic.
This included two £5m contracts for “strategic support” and “digital support” for the test and trace programme, a £4.5m contract with the Department for International Development for a project on accelerated Covid economic support, and £1.6m for a Covid-19 consultancy task force from the Cabinet Office.
Other projects include work on the UK’s food security, and advice on vaccine manufacturing.
The rates far outstrip those paid to public-sector workers – just 1% of civil servants are paid more than £80,000 a year.
The coronavirus test and trace system collapsed last month after schools reopened following the lockdown. Figures on 17 September showed that almost nine in 10 of all Covid-19 tests in England were taking longer than 24 hours to produce results.
Since then, the government has relied upon private-sector involvement, while Lady Harding, the head of the programme, has faced calls for her resignation.
BCG’s 40 workers are only a small fraction of the 1,000 consultants employed by Deloitte on the system.
Staff from consulting firms, including KPMG, have been put on standby to work on “back office” parts of the system on a short-term basis over the next six months, it emerged last month. Among the firms thought to have been contacted for help is EY.
None of these appointments has been announced publicly, no costings have been published, and there is no information about how the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) will secure value for money from the consultants.
The Guardian disclosed last week that the government has become increasingly reliant upon management consultants, with spending on the top eight firms rising by 45% to more than £450m in three years.
BCG was one of the lowest earning of the eight firms and received around £7m from central government funds for consultancy work during 2019/20, figures from the data provider Tussell showed. Deloitte was the biggest winner, earning fees of £147m from public funds.
Two weeks ago the minister in charge of curbing Whitehall spending, Theodore Agnew, wrote a letter to senior civil servants saying the civil service had become “infantilised” by an “unacceptable” reliance on expensive management consultants.
The DHSC said: “NHS test and trace is the biggest testing system per head of population of all the major countries in Europe. It’s processing 270,000 tests a day, and nearly 700,000 people who may otherwise have unknowingly at risk of spreading coronavirus have been contacted.
“To build the largest diagnostic network in British history, it requires us to work with both public and private sector partners with the specialist skills and experience we need. Every pound spent is contributing towards our efforts to keep people safe as we ramp up testing capacity to 500,000 tests a day by the end of October.”
BCG declined to comment.