Case Study: Test and Trace

Pandemic-related select committee activity

According to the Institute for Government, the Women and Equalities Committee had the highest proportion of Covid-related inquiries (6 of 12, 50%), driven by ‘four inquiries focused on the unequal impact of the pandemic on groups with protected characteristics — an area of particular concern during Covid’. The Health and Social Care Committee had the second highest proportion of inquiries related to Covid (4 of 11, 36%). These ranged from inquiries into the short-term response to the pandemic to the longer-term implications for the NHS.

Adapted from the Institute for Government, Parliamentary Monitor 2021

'The impact of NHS Test and Trace is still unclear - despite the UK government setting aside £37bn for it over two years, MPs are warning.'

The PAC Public Accounts Committee gave a very critical assessment of the test and trace programme which was set up on the basis it would help prevent future lockdowns - but there were two more.

The committee stated spending was "unimaginable" and warned the taxpayer could not be treated like an "ATM machine".'

BBC Test and Trace

The PAC predates the departmental select committees established in 1979, and its existence can be traced back to Gladstone era. So it is not a departmental select committee.

The sums spent by the government do seem enormous. It has been estimated that the £22b spent in 2021 could have funded a laptop, a wifi connection, and three free meals a day (every day, not just term time) for every child of school age in Britain for about two years.

The PAC has been in the press in recent years for also disclosing details of egregious wastes of money by the government, in the shape of the failed attempt to create an IT system for the NHS that would allow efficient storage and retrieval of patient records. This project started in the early noughties and was abandoned in the year Con-Lib coalition years at an estimated cost overrun of anywhere between 400 and 700 per cent.