The government did not give £37 billion to Serco

14 September 2021
What was claimed

Serco received £37 billion of government money in contracts for NHS Test and Trace.

Our verdict

Incorrect. The total value of contracts signed with Serco under the Test and Trace programme by the end of March 2021 was about £623 million. £37 billion was the total budget for the whole programme, not all of which was spent.

A screenshot claiming that Serco “magically disappeared” £37 billion has been shared on Facebook over 300 times.

This appears to be a reference to the £37 billion budget for the first two years of the NHS Test and Trace programme. However, not all of that budget has been spent, and only a fraction of it was used to pay for services from the outsourcing company Serco.

It is a common misconception that Serco runs the entire programme, or built the NHS Covid-19 app, or that £37 billion has been spent already.

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What the post said

The post appears to be a screenshot from Twitter. At the time of writing, the original tweet does not appear in search results, and may have been deleted. However, it seems to come from an account that has tweeted similar claims about Test and Trace before.

The post shared on Facebook says: “The £36 billion the Tories are raising with the tax increase is £1 billion less than the £37 billion that Serco magically disappeared. Let that sink in.”

This seems to refer to the government’s recently announced plans to raise £36 billion to fund health and social care for three years with increases in the rate of National Insurance and dividend tax.

The figure of £37 billion seems to refer to the approximate budget allocated for the first two years of the Test and Trace programme, the vast majority of which was for testing.

Of this budget, £22.2 billion was set aside for 2020-21, but only about £13.5 billion was actually spent.

The value of the contracts signed with Serco during that first year was about £623 million, making it the fourth largest private supplier to the programme, by contract value. (Although the actual spending under all these contracts may be higher or lower than the value of the contracts themselves.)

The big picture

In short, the government has certainly spent a large amount of money on the Test and Trace programme.

Most of it went on testing, but only a small proportion went to Serco, for managing some test sites and providing some contact-tracing services.

The first year of the programme cost more than the £12 billion the government is planning to spend, on average, in each year of its new health and social care plan.

The second year of Test and Trace is also budgeted to cost more, but we don’t yet know whether it will.

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