Deloitte consultants draft ministers' answersby
Big Four accountant Deloitte’s role in the UK government’s £37bn Test and Trace programme has come under further scrutiny after contracts revealed its consultants were tasked to draft responses to parliamentary questions.
Deloitte’s involvement in the Test and Trace programme continues to arouse controversy weeks after it was flagged as a waste of “unimaginable” amounts of public funds by a Commons Public Accounts Committee report.
The Huffington Post analysed several of the £323m-worth of contracts awarded to Deloitte in response to the Covid-19 pandemic and uncovered clauses setting out requirements for Deloitte staff to “draft and respond to parliamentary questions, Freedom of Information requests, media queries and other reactive requests”. The work included coming up with lines to take under critical questioning and defensive Q&As drafted for ministers and NHS Test and Trace chair Baroness Dido Harding (pictured above at Downing Street press conference).
This policy is at odds with the Whitehall convention that civil servants draft answers to questions from MPs and requests submitted under the Freedom of Information Act.
Addicted to outsourcing
Good Law Project legal director Gemma Abbott told Huffpost: “We have a government so addicted to outsourcing that it has even outsourced being held to account.
“If a member of the public submits an FOI request, or an MP asks a parliamentary question about the government spending millions on contracts with Deloitte, it seems that it’s Deloitte at the other end marking its own homework – it is beyond parody.
“Does anyone know where the Department for Deloitte ends and the Department for Health begins?”
Shadow health minister Justin Madders picked up on the blurring of responsibilities that has occurred during the pandemic: “There is no doubt the department has struggled in the last year but there can be no justification for what amounts to a part privatisation of the civil service. It also raises massive questions about conflicts of interest and a clear blurring of the lines between impartial civil service advice which should be paid for by the taxpayer and political activities which shouldn’t be.”
In response to questions from the Huffington Post, the Department of Health and Social Care commented: “The government employs contractors in the same vein that private businesses do and responsibility for answering parliamentary questions, freedom of information requests and media enquiries rests firmly with a team of civil service communications professionals within the Department of Health and Social Care. Every single response is subject to the highest levels of scrutiny to ensure they are both factual and detailed.”
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