Boris Johnson’s ‘moonshot’ testing scheme to cost £43 billion

The scale of the contracts, which was disclosed by the Financial Times, dwarfs the annual budgets of some government departments. The Department for Transport has a budget worth £24 billion, the Cabinet Office £15 billion and the Home Office £14 billion. It is also more than the entire annual expenditure on policing in England and Wales.

At some point there will be a day of reckoning – Owl

Steven Swinford, Deputy Political Editorwww.thetimes.co.uk 

The government is preparing to spend more than £40 billion to help deliver on Boris Johnson’s “moonshot” pledge for mass coronavirus testing across the UK.

Public Health England has issued a contract worth £22 billion for a new national testing framework, which includes the manufacture and development of tests for the NHS over the next four years.

The NHS has issued another tender worth £20 billion which includes on-the-spot tests and diagnostics equipment. It said that the value of the contract had increased from £5 billion to £20 billion because of the pandemic and “immediate overall increased spend in support of [the] Covid-19 testing programme”.

A third tender for £1billion, covering just three and a half months, offers £912 million for the supply of rapid turnaround “lateral flow” tests. The contract could be enough to supply tests to cover the entire population.

The scale of the contracts, which was disclosed by the Financial Times, dwarfs the annual budgets of some government departments. The Department for Transport has a budget worth £24 billion, the Cabinet Office £15 billion and the Home Office £14 billion. It is also more than the entire annual expenditure on policing in England and Wales.

The disclosure came as Matt Hancock, the health secretary, announced that mass coronavirus testing would be rolled out to 67 local authorities in England.

A total of 600,000 rapid coronavirus tests, which are capable of giving results in an hour, will be sent out across the UK this week to start the next phase of mass testing. Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire and the West Midlands are among the areas that will receive the tests.

Since Friday every resident in Liverpool has been entitled to receive a test under a scheme run by the army.

Speaking in the Commons this afternoon, Mr Hancock said: “The next step is to roll out this mass testing capability more widely. So I can tell the House that last night I wrote to 67 directors of public health who have expressed an interest in making 10,000 tests available immediately and making available lateral flow tests for use by local officials, according to local needs, at a rate of 10 per cent of their population per week.

“That same capacity — 10 per cent of the population per week — will be made available to the devolved administrations too.”

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said directors of public health had been prioritised for the first phase of rapid community testing based on the local prevalence of Covid-19 and expressions of interest to the department.

However, any director who wants to start rolling out local testing using lateral flow tests can do so by contacting the DHSC.

The department said local teams could direct and deliver testing “based on their local knowledge”.

Coventry city council, which is among the local authorities to be part of the mass testing programme, welcomed news of additional tests.

Liz Gaulton, the city’s director of public health, said: “Anything that will help in the battle to reduce the number of positive cases in the city is to be welcomed.”

George Duggins, Labour leader of the council, welcomed the initial batch of 10,000 tests destined for the city but warned against complacency.

He said: “Although this news of the additional testing for the city is welcome, it is noticeable it comes with no additional funding for rolling it out or implementing, which means additional expense to all local authorities.

“We will of course do that, but all local authorities need to be recognised and reimbursed for the considerable work they are all doing in helping to fight the pandemic.”

Wolverhampton’s director of public health, John Denley, said the lateral flow tests would “help us to break chains of transmission much more quickly”.

He added the city “expressed an interest” in bringing testing to Wolverhampton after observing results of the Liverpool pilot and said tests would be provided “in the coming days”.