Test and Trace is 'a success', Dido Harding insists - James O'Brien responds

9 July 2021, 17:57

By Fiona Jones

This is the moment James O'Brien responded to Dido Harding claiming Test and Trace has been "a success".

Ms Harding suggested to ministers that the negative public opinion surrounding the system, which is on track to cost over £37 billion, is largely down to bad press.

She said: 'I would actually argue — and I do appreciate that a lot of people listening to this will find this rather incredulous given some of the way it’s been reported — but I would actually argue that NHS Test and Trace has been a success."

The Baroness also told ministers that Test and Trace, of which she is "proud", has reduced transmission by "18 to 33 percent" according to a Government study.

James questioned whether it was indeed the fault of journalists that Dido Harding's organisation has been widely condemned - by reading out her career history.

"We'll start in 1995 when she was a management consultant at McKinsey and she landed a job at the age of 27 as Marketing Director of Thomas Cook.

"'Thomas Cook spends a long time contemplating its navel', an executive from a rival firm tells Marketing Week, 'it is in character for it to recruit a consultant rather than a doer'. So they hired a doer, and she said 'It is common for consultants to be thought of as eggheads who don't know what they're doing, I want to prove I can do things before the label sticks.

"Two years later... she made a virtue of her ignorance: 'I am not ashamed to say' after two years in the job 'I do not know the travel industry as well as my colleagues, but in a team I think I bring a different perspective.'

"When she was hired she said she'd look at the future for the business within five to ten years time. Unfortunately after four years she was off, moving to employment services group Manpower, as Senior Vice President of strategic marketing in Europe.

"When she got there, stayed there a year and changed horses again and became Commercial Director of the struggling retail group Woolworths.

"Just under a year later she was off again - she joined Tesco as a Commercial Director for value added food. So I think Tesco becomes the first major company she's worked for that's still there - what a glittering CV this is.

"In 2004, she became responsible for overseas ventures and told The Guardian she was planning to still be there in five years' time. Needless to say, three years later she was off again, she went to Sainsbury's. Few months of gardening leave, March 2008, Head of Sainsbury's convenience stores.

"Two years later she's off to TalkTalk, and this is where things get really interesting... She arrived at TalkTalk, the mobile provider, as Chief Executive in March 2010. In 2011, TalkTalk incurred a £3 million fine from Ofcom for sending thousands of customers inaccurate bills. It then had to shell out another £2.5 million, and during her time there she twice won the Daily Mail's 'Wooden Spoon award' for providing the worst customer service in the UK.

"It was indeed David Cameron who, in 2014, gave her a seat in the House of Lords as a Tory peer. A little later, cyber criminals got hold of the personal and financial details of about 150,000 TalkTalk customers, and when asked whether the data was encrypted or not, Chief Executive - now Baroness Harding - said 'the awful truth is that I don't know.'

"100,000 customers leave TalkTalk, profits are halved. She then moves into what she calls public service activities, becoming Chair of NHS Improvement - responsible for overseeing all NHS hospitals. She told the Health select committee 'I've not worked in health and social care and would be the first to admit I have a lot to learn about the sector.

"She also rejected calls to resign the whip while holding what should be an independent post. And then along came Covid - which she contends she's done a bang-up job in dealing with, the Test and Trace app.

"So there it is. That is an astonishing example of falling upwards isn't it? You sometimes wonder whether we get a bit carried away describing cronyism and the way in which people who can talk a good game but couldn't kick a ball in a million years somehow end up rising to the top in a country where Iain Duncan-Smith ended up leader of the Conservative party, or Boris Johnson ended up Prime Minister."