Dame Jenny also told MPs the public health body, which absorbed Test and Trace in 2021, was working to reduce use of external support to an “absolute minimum”.
Test and Trace spent £145m on external support between April 2020 and March 2021, followed by another £317m over the following year. Spending was highest during the first half of the 2021-22 financial year, when the agency was paying consultants an average of £34m a month.
Dame Jenny revealed the figures in a letter to the Commons public accounts committee, which has previously asked for details on how the public health watchdog would “reduce its dependency on consultants”. The committee published the letter, dated 10 June, yesterday.
It comes amid substantial pressure on the NHS and Department of Health and Social Care to reduce spending to stay within tight budgets.
The number of consultants currently employed at UKHSA, which was created by merging Test and Trace and elements of Public Health England, has now fallen to fewer than 600, from a peak of more than 2,500 in early 2021. UKHSA said average daily rates for consultants have fallen from from £1,244 to £989 since January, with the most senior consultants paid up to £2,905 a day, down from £3,100 in January,
UKHSA said earlier this year the omicron variant had delayed efforts to reduce spend on external support but has since insisted it will hit its targets by the end of this month.
Dame Jenny said: “Management consultants fulfil a knowledge gap by providing advisory services which are not normally found within the civil service. Within UKHSA, management consultants have been essential in meeting the demands of building the infrastructure and capabilities needed to deliver the pandemic response…
“With the exception of technology, and a very few other critical skills not readily available in the civil service but required for health protection service delivery, it is our intention to reduce management consultants to an absolute minimum by the end of July 2022.”
The letter added ministers have recognised a “special case” for technology roles, including software engineering, cyber security, and information governance, that are not easily available, with around 100 technology consultants potentially remaining into 2023.
Media reports have suggested the organisation could cut up to 40 per cent of its jobs and suspend some routine covid testing following budget cuts. A previous letter to the committee confirmed UKHSA is carrying out a rapid review of staffing levels to determine the “appropriate workforce composition for the future”.
Tamzen Isacsson, chief executive of the Management Consultancies Association, said: “Our MCA member firms have highly stringent governance procedures which adhere to the Government set criteria and which ensure staff working on public sector projects meet the highest standards in ethics and are held to account to ensure the public interest is being served and that firms are providing value for money.”