Consultants earning average of £1,200 a day account for an eighth of UKHSA workforce

Written by Beckie Smith on 19 May 2022 in News

CEO Harries tells MPs that 58% of workers at public-health agency are civil servants

Credit: Evan-Amos/CC BY-SA 3.0

More than one in eight people working at the UK Health Security Agency are management consultants and some are earning upwards of £3,000 a day, its chief executive has revealed.

UKHSA, and one of its predecessor organisations NHS Test and Trace, has previoulsy been criticised for its reliance on consultancy businesses and external contractors. The former head of the contact-tracing programme, Dido Harding, told parliament’s Public Accounts Committee in July that the lack of digital and data skills in the civil service was a major reason for the scheme’s reliance on contractors

In October, Test and Trace – along with Public Health England and the Joint Biosecurity Centre – was replaced and subsumed by UKHSA.

As of 31 January, management consultants made up 13% of the new public health agency’s workforce, CEO Dame Jenny Harries said in a written update to MPs. Just over half of the workforce – 58% – were civil servants, while the remaining 29% were contingent labour.

The contingent labour segment includes consultants in public health, which Harries described as a “core part of the UKHSA workforce”. Her letter stressed the distinction between management consultants that provide advisory services, and specialists “with either clinical or multi-disciplinary backgrounds in public health”.

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UKHSA is paying management consultants between £706 and £3,100 a day – excluding VAT, Harries said. As of November – when the most recent analysis took place – the average day rate was £1,244 excluding VAT. 

“This reflects an approach focused on minimising the cost of management consultants for those deemed essential to operational delivery,” Harries said. 

In January, it was revealed that 27% of the Test and Trace workforce were management consultants, nearly a year after a plan to reduce their involvement in the programme. By that point, just over half had left as part of a “consultancy ramp down programme” that began in February 2020.

Harries and Department for Health and Social Care permanent secretary Sir Chris Wormald told PAC at the time that UKHSA – which took over responsibility for NHS Test and Trace in spring 2021 – was trying to recruit officials to replace the remaining management consultants “as far as possible”.

But they said the nature of the jobs on offer was deterring applications, explaining: “Covid-19 response roles are generally offered on the basis of short-term loans, secondments and fixed term appointments to avoid a permanent increase in the size of the organisation; however, these are often less attractive, which reduces the supply of candidates.”

Harries added that UKHSA is carrying out a “rapid review of the functions and shape of the organisation required to deliver [its] future role”, following the February announcement of the government’s “Living with Covid” plan and its Spending Review settlement.

It has since been reported that the health agency plans to cut 40% of its jobs – around 800 full-time equivalent roles – in a move that public-health experts have called “irresponsible”. UKHSA has not confirmed the plans.

“This review will identify the appropriate workforce composition for the future and is likely to see further significant reductions in the number of management consultants working in the UKHSA. A revised mechanism to track and report on these reductions is being put in place,” Harries said.


About the author

Beckie Smith is deputy editor for PublicTechnlogy sister publication Civil Service World, where a version of this story first appeared. She tweets as @beckie__smith.


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