Government to spend £10bn on botched test-and-trace system

Calls for public inquiry mounting as Treasury also reveals £15bn bill for PPE

Coronavirus testing site
A health worker at a drive-through coronavirus testing site in Wolverhampton
(Image credit: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Taxpayers have had to stump up £10bn for a test-and-trace system that is still not fully operational, it has emerged.

The Treasury also revealed that it spent £15bn on PPE during the pandemic “amid scrutiny of the government’s procurement process”, The Telegraph says.

“Campaigners blasted officials for an enormous waste of taxpayers money” after PPE, coronavirus testing and contact tracing programmes were shown to have “accounted for almost four-fifths of extra health spending”, the paper reports.

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Labour MP Meg Hillier, chair of Parliament’s public accounts committee, said Whitehall officials have “questions to answer” about the track-and-trace programmes, which “won’t be supporting the unlocking of the economy for some time to come”.

Matthew Lesh, head of research at the Adam Smith Institute, added that the amount spent on the programmes was “astonishing”.

The government has been “ploughing huge sums of money into the track and trace system” despite it “still failing to catch coronavirus cases”, The Sun reports.

Only 75% of people who tested positive for the virus and were passed on to the NHS system “were reached by tracers and asked to share information of their contacts”, the paper says. And of the contacts who were contacted and told they may be infected with coronavirus, only 73% could be reached and asked to self-isolate.

The NHS app intended to support the system was later ditched after it failed to detect most contacts. Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the government would work with tech giants Apple and Google to launch a functional app.

Pressure is growing on the government to launch a public inquiry into spending on the coronavirus response.

Hillier has “warned the government would have to justify the huge price of PPE amid intense scrutiny over its procurement strategy”, The Telegraph says.

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Joe Evans is the world news editor at He joined the team in 2019 and held roles including deputy news editor and acting news editor before moving into his current position in early 2021. He is a regular panellist on The Week Unwrapped podcast, discussing politics and foreign affairs. 

Before joining The Week, he worked as a freelance journalist covering the UK and Ireland for German newspapers and magazines. A series of features on Brexit and the Irish border got him nominated for the Hostwriter Prize in 2019. Prior to settling down in London, he lived and worked in Cambodia, where he ran communications for a non-governmental organisation and worked as a journalist covering Southeast Asia. He has a master’s degree in journalism from City, University of London, and before that studied English Literature at the University of Manchester.