Britain’s biggest outsourcers have been told by the government to prepare for a wave of COVID-19- triggered absenteeism among teams responsible for working on critical national infrastructure projects.
Sky News has obtained a memo sent from the Cabinet Office to private sector companies with major government contracts in areas ranging from prisoner escorting to armed forces recruitment.
In it, officials told outsourcers to disclose their readiness for an average of 21% of their workforces to be away from work during a projected 16-week outbreak of the infection.
“We would like all suppliers to consider minimum number of staff required to deliver services on gold contracts and prioritisation of Key Performance Indicators and Service Level Agreements based on criticality of services and vulnerability of service users,” it said.
The major outsourcers include Capita, Interserve, Mitie and Serco, all of which handle sensitive public service contracts.
The Cabinet Office’s memo also asked private sector suppliers to consider whether a 21% rate of employee absenteeism would affect their ability to deliver critical national infrastructure services.
It added that government projections were that 80% of the UK population would be infected with COVID-19 at some point.
The reliance of government on private sector providers is likely to be closely scrutinised once the coronavirus crisis is over, given the number of controversies surrounding their delivery of contracts in the past.
Capita has seen its shares plunge in recent weeks following a set of financial results which disclosed that its turnaround was proving more expensive and protracted than envisaged.
The Cabinet Office could not be reached for comment.