Questions raised over Dido Harding’s ‘voluntary’ role as head of new health department

Baroness Dido Harding during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus (COVID-19).

Baroness Dido Harding during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus (COVID-19). Photograph: PA/Downing St. - Credit: PA

Questions are being raised over Dido Harding's decision to run Matt Hancock's new health department unpaid.

Harding was appointed to run the newly formed National Institute for Health Protection (NIHP) by the health secretary, which will come to replace Public Health England.

But the Tory baroness has refused to draw a salary and is also heading the beleaguered NHS Test and Trace scheme without pay as well.

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Harding is currently being paid between £25,000-£30,000 as chair of NHS Improvement, a non-departmental body in England responsible for overseeing NHS trusts.

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Investigative journalist and The Observer writer Carole Cadwalldr said it was a 'weird' step to take and compared it to Donald Trump's now imprisoned former campaign manager Paul Manafort's decision to work for the US president pro-bono.

Manafort pleaded guilty to two counts of defrauding the US and witness tampering and is now serving a 43-month sentence.

'Maybe I find this so weird because I read the Senate Intel report yesterday which made big deal of how Paul Manafort got to be Trump's campaign manager because he offered his services for free but what the hell is this?' Cadwalldr tweeted.

'IF she is worth her salt (questionable),' @MWood10001 replied, 'and she is holding an important public office then she MUST BE PAID otherwise it creates a sense of obligation which can be exploited.'

'Completely fells accountability doesn't it?' Avril York said.

@RavingMalang suggested Harding was working for free in order to 'get around the issue that she's been appointed without a transparent hiring process...'

Dain Obermaier was more stern, writing: 'We'll pay for Dido, one way or another...'

Liberal Democrats MP Layla Moran, who chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group on coronavirus said: 'Given we still don't have an effective Test, Trace and Isolate system, this feels like a reward for failure.

'The health secretary has undermined public trust in this new agency before it's even been launched. Serious questions must be answered over the timing of this decision at a time we should be focused on preparing for a potential second wave.'

Reports have suggested under Harding's watch of the NHS Test and Trace programme, tracers only reached half the number of contacts they needed to.

MORE: Probe into England's contact tracers finds many make only 'a handful of calls' a month

Harding was also responsible for the NHS coronavirus contact tracing app, which was found to have numerous technological faults following a trial in the Isle of Wight and is now being redeveloped by Google and Apple.

She was also chief executive of telecomms company TalkTalk when it was fined for Britain's worst ever data breach.

In 2015, the company saw 157,000 customers' personal data, including bank details, stolen by hackers.

It was handed a record fine of £400,000 by the Information Commissioner's Office for 'abdicating its security obligations'.

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