The boss of an outsourcing giant involved in the much-criticised coronavirus Test and Trace programme has admitted it took “some time to settle down” but argued it was “now working really, really well”.
Speaking to Sky News, Serco chief executive Rupert Soames also rejected comparisons with the widely hailed COVID-19 vaccination rollout, arguing his firm had been “plunged straight into it” last year while there had been time to plan for the administration of jabs.
The UK now had “the largest and most successful test and tracing system in Europe”, Mr Soames told the Ian King Live programme.
He also insisted the private contractor had made “very little” from its involvement.
Mr Soames said: “The idea that COVID has been a huge boon to our profits is simply not true.”
“Overall, the benefit to the company of COVID is tiny.”
In its latest update, the company said expected underlying trading profits, its preferred measure, to be up by around 35% to between £160m and £165m.
Around 4% of this came from coronavirus contract wins, once the repayment of furlough cash and staff bonuses were taken into consideration.
Taking issue with critics dubbing it “Serco test and trace”, Mr Soames said: “The idea that this is a system that we are running or organising or managing is just pure fantasy, it’s completely untrue.
“We are playing a small but I hope important part in what has now become the most successful test and tracing system in Europe.
“It has got better and better and better as it has gone through.”
He added: “The vaccination programme, which has gone really, really well, but it has had quite a long time to plan for it, before they had to go and put a needle into anybody’s arm.
“On the Test and Trace side, we were plunged straight into it and told to stand up 10,000 people on four weeks’ notice in May.
“So it has taken some time to settle down but it is now working really, really well and I hope the government is pleased with what we have done and the services we have provided.”
In the face of continuing criticism, Mr Soames also defended Serco and other private firms in delivering public services.
He highlighted the role played by businesses in the current pandemic from building the Nightingale hospitals through to developing and delivering vaccines.
Mr Soames said: “I think it is very important that people don’t pick and choose and live in a world where they believe that government can do everything.
“The fact is government’s response to this crisis has leant heavily on the private sector and I think that is quite right that it should do so.
“We did come in for a lot of criticism in the early days of Test and Trace.
“A lot of it I think was unfounded and unfair but I absolutely defend the right of people to come after us, criticise us and hold us to account, as long as they don’t mind us robustly defending ourselves.”
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