The roll-out of the government’s new contact-tracing app is being led by staff from consultancy Accenture, which has received more than £850,000 for 10 weeks’ work, Sky News can reveal.
Government records show that the consultancy was awarded a contract worth £560,587.20 on 14 April to provide “project management support” for the app until the end of May.
A second contract worth £308,679.06, this time for one month, was awarded to Accenture at the start of June. Yet although this contract expired on 30 June 2020, and no further contracts have been published on the government website, Accenture is still playing a key role in the roll-out of the project.
Accenture staff have been holding virtual meetings with businesses on the Isle of Wight, where the app is being trialled ahead of a national launch.
During a recent video conference hosted by an Accenture analyst, a senior manager from the firm gave a short presentation on the app’s QR code venue check-in system, explaining that the trial was needed so “we could learn how this is going to be used”.
According to one person present, the Accenture staff had email addresses from NHSX – the NHS England innovation unit in charge of delivering the app. However, their names were shown on the video call alongside the name of their company.
The government has been criticised for its reliance on consultancies during the coronavirus crisis and Accenture’s involvement in the contact-tracing project has caused unease inside NHSX.
“They are not what we need,” a senior NHSX source told Sky News, describing external meetings hosted by Accenture as “a real own goal”.
It emerged this week that McKinsey was paid more than half a million pounds for six weeks of work on the “vision, purpose and narrative” of a new public health authority in England.
Liberal Democrat Health spokesperson Munira Wilson criticised the “eye-watering” sums spent on the previous contact-tracing app and the Test and Trace system, which is managed by outsourcing giant Serco.
“I sincerely hope this new contact-tracing app works,” she said. “But whether it does or not, we need full transparency and proper accountability when it comes to these lucrative contracts.
“This is not a small matter; we are still fighting a dangerous virus and people’s lives are at risk.”
The first contact-tracing app, which Health Secretary Matt Hancock promised would be ready by mid-May, was scrapped in June after doubts were raised about its technical capabilities.
The deals with Accenture were made under so-called “framework agreements”, arrangements which allow public sector bodies to buy services or products without going through a full tender application process every time.
Accenture, worked also worked with the Austrian government on its Stopp Corona contact tracing app, referred a request for comment to NHSX.
A Department for Health and Social Care spokesperson told Sky News: “The public expects us to be doing everything we can to respond to this unprecedented global pandemic – this includes working with a wide range of public and private sector partners.
“The organisations we are working with are providing the necessary skills and expertise we need to develop the new NHS Test and Trace app, which is currently being trialled and will be rolled out nationally once it’s ready.”