BRIGHTON and Hove’s Green group convenor is one of five council leaders looking to wrestle control of contact tracing from private companies.

Council leader Phelim Mac Cafferty described the government’s decision to hand control of the system to private providers as “disastrous” and said funding should instead be given to local council public health teams.

Outsourcing company Serco and call centre company Sitel are currently contracted by the government to oversee non-complex contract-tracing cases in England, with employees in call-centres tasked with contacting anyone who has been in contact with a person who has tested positive for coronavirus.

But a group of five UK council leaders, made up of Green, Labour and Conservative party members, have written a letter to Health Secretary Matt Hancock urging him to rethink this system.

Clr Mac Cafferty said: “These companies have repeatedly failed to meet their targets to identify people with the virus and scandalously wasted hundreds of millions of pounds of public money.

“The funding instead needs to be urgently handed over to local council public health teams like the one here in Brighton and Hove which is helping keep the transmission level low, despite a decade of savage government cuts.

“These teams have the direct experience of helping with things like contact tracing already, take tracing food poisoning for example, and crucially they have the knowledge, experience and connections to ensure they can understand our community far better than distant government ministers.”

Oldham Council Labour leader Sean Fielding is another to put his name to the letter, with all those involved working alongside campaign group We Own It.

The group has started a petition to “end Serco’s role in contact tracing in England now” which has been signed more than 25,500 times.

It also commissioned a poll, which showed that 74 per cent of those surveyed want to see the contact tracing system run publicly while 14 per cent supported the outsourcing of the work to private companies such as Serco and Sitel.

We Own It campaigner Pascale Robinson said people were “rightly worried” about the rising number of coronavirus cases in the UK and slammed the existing contact tracing methods in place.

He said: “The government’s decision to outsource the system and side-step the experience of local public health protection teams was a catastrophic mistake.

“But hope isn’t lost. Matt Hancock and Boris Johnson can turn this around. To do that they need to follow the calls from local council leaders across the country and give local government teams resources and funding.”