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Hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ cash have been ‘wasted’ on the delayed and under-capacity Leamington Covid testing mega-laboratory.
An investigation by The Independent newspaper has found it processed thousands of incorrect test results and is subject to major health and safety concerns.
The probe was assisted by Warwick and Leamington MP Matt Western who supplied contacts, information and asked Parliamentary questions.
The Rosalind Franklin Laboratory – the centrepiece of the Government’s Test and Trace network – formally opened six months late in July last year.
The laboratory in Juno Drive, off Queensway, is still only working at about 20% per cent capacity with doubts persisting over whether it will ever reach full working order.
The newspaper makes multiple serious allegations including suggestions of ‘spiralling costs’, cover ups and that a worker nearly died on site.
Sources cited in the investigation claim the project could be hundreds of millions of pounds overbudget with an initial £588million allocated to it. A senior source claims that by November more than £1.1billion had been spent on the laboratory.
The articles alleges that the site is now ‘under review’ and efforts were made to ‘pull the plug’ on the project.
It references construction delays, inadequate training, sample contamination, rat infestations, Covid outbreaks and staff misconduct.
As we reported, Mr Western has long been investigating the laboratory after he accused the government of ignoring his concerns about its opening date, the costs to the taxpayer and its association with multiple private companies.
He was told last summer that four laboratory lines of the 12 intended to become operational were to be scrapped.
The government had boasted the laboratory would be able to process 300,000 tests per day – which was then revised down to 100,000.
But the laboratory is believed to be processing no more than 30,000 per day, insiders suggested. Though it was getting through a much lower figure before October last year
Mr Western said: “It is such a relief the serious issues with the mega-laboratory have finally come to the surface.
“For months my team and I have been investigating the concerns of the workforce and the community.
“We were made aware of government-awarded contracts overrunning, staff being mistreated by recruitment companies and widespread operational challenges – resulting in severe delays to the project.
“Of course, I want the laboratory to be an asset for the Warwick and Leamington community, for it to provide valuable jobs and for the persisting challenges to be overcome.
“But this involves openness, transparency, and willingness to engage with the public, the media and elected officials.
“Unfortunately, senior figures and the DHSC have behaved in the opposite fashion – while staff are coerced into silence.
“The contamination, and false positives that were processed, are extremely serious allegations – and must be investigated.
“And the extent of the waste of taxpayers’ money – unfortunately characteristic of this government – must be confirmed by the Department for Health.
“I call on local partners to work together to salvage a scheme that, eventually, could put Leamington on the map – for the right reasons.”
Internal mails obtained last summer revealed 31 lab support technicians, days before they were due to start work, were informed they would be paid for the foreseeable future to remain at home due to delays – which the newspaper claims cost the taxpayer tens of thousands of pounds.
At that point hundreds of staff had been waiting to start work but were unable to due to delays.
It is believed hundreds could still be cut from the 1,600-strong workforce, extinguishing hopes of 2,000 new jobs to the area which were initially promised by the government.
It is the only remaining functioning Test and Trace diagnostics laboratory across the whole network.