Serco chief hits out at Labour criticism of NHS Test and Trace

Rupert Soames says politicians are directing criticism towards Serco instead of the NHS

The boss of the outsourcer at the centre of a row over the NHS’s Covid test and trace scheme has launched a scathing attack on a senior Labour MP over comments it should be “sacked” for perceived failings.

Rupert Soames, chief executive of Serco, said he was “surprised” at the comments by shadow cabinet secretary Rachel Reeves earlier this week.

Ms Reeves was one of a number of MPs to have urged the Government to “sack Serco”, which is one of the firms hired to deliver Boris Johnson’s contract tracing regime.

Mr Soames told The Telegraph that critics of his company had chosen to “weaponise” outsourcers such as Serco instead of directing their criticism towards the NHS.

He added: “It is an alternative way of attack. The idea that some people don’t like outsourcing is hardly new. There are many people in the Labour Party that don’t agree with it at all.

“I am surprised by Rachel Reeves. She is very senior, she knows what goes on in Government. And she seems to have a particular focus on Serco. 

“It is downright untruthful to say that Serco is running Test and Trace. And I’d be very surprised if she didn’t know it.”

Mr Soames, the grandson of Winston Churchill, insisted that the programme had been a success, as Serco revealed its contract for Test and Trace had been extended.

The company noted that it runs a quarter of Test and Trace sites and is one of two companies making contact tracing calls, but it was not responsible for laboratory testing or the booking of tests.

Campaigners outside the Department of Health and Social Care office in London protesting over Serco's handling of the test, track and trace system last month

Some 296,000 tests are being performed every day in the UK at a rate of 2,857 per 100,00 of the population each week, compared with a rate of 1,320 in Germany and 1,485 in France.

He said: “The narrative has got going that this is all a shambles and it is not working. When actually the complete reverse of that is true. We are doing 60pc more tests per day than the Germans.”

Mr Soames admitted that there had been “points of leakage” after figures revealed that 71.6pc of close contacts of Covid cases were reached, below the 80pc figure set by the Government’s medical advisers.

The vast majority of these were as a result of people “not picking up their phone” when contacted by tracers, he said.

“If you do government work, then you are doing difficult and controversial things. We are not out for being corporate heroes.”

His remarks came as Serco surprised the market with an unexpected trading update. Shares rose as much as 20pc as the FTSE 250 company revealed a better-than-expected third quarter and raised hopes that its dividend would soon be reinstated.

A decision will be made in December, the company said. 

Mr Soames added that he would “never take a decision before you really have to. Because the situation could [soon] be very different”.