August 28, 2020
Tory peer Dido Harding has been paid around £175,000 by the taxpayer since she started a two-day-a week Job within the NHS, HuffPost UK has learned.
Exclusive: Tory Peer Dido Harding Pockets £65,000 For Two-Day-A-Week NHS Job
The former boss of telecoms giant TalkTalk took a salary of up to £65,000-a-year as chair of NHS Improvement (NHSI) for two full years in 2018/19 and 2019/20, forthcoming accounts are set to confirm.
Some board members of NHSI have waived their salary to save the health service money, but Harding is understood to have been paid.
Harding has led the NHS Test and Trace service since its creation in May and was this month controversially appointed again by health secretary Matt Hancock to lead a new National Institute for Health Protection (NIHP).
Both her Test and Trace job and her new role are unpaid, a move seen by critics as a way of limiting the political row over the way she was appointed without external scrutiny.
But critics say Harding’s payments for her NHSI role show that she has been willing to be paid for other NHS work. Her defenders said she was "Worth every penny
NHS Improvement was created in 2016 to bring together functions such as patient safety, financial and healthcare monitoring and trust development, but was itself merged with NHS England last year and its role remains largely unknown to the wider public.
In total, Harding has been paid around £175,000 since she took up her post nearly three years ago.
First appointed as chair of the body in late October 2017, annual accounts show she was paid up to £30,000 for her first five months in the job.
After two full years of taking the salary of £60,000-to-£65,000, she is understood to have continued taking her payments in this 2020/2021 financial year too, which covers the period the Coronavirus pandemic first struck the UK and assuming her new role at NHS Test and Trace.
However, the accounts also so that some members of the board chaired by Harding have decided to waive their salary.
Non-executive directors Tim Ferris and Wol Kolade decline to take payment, as does associate non-executive director Sir David Behan.
The former TalkTalk boss was paid a £550,000 salary at the telecoms firm before she quit in 2017, with bonuses taking her pay to above £2m.
Harding was appointed a life peer by David Cameron, her contemporary from Oxford, in 2014. Her husband is Tory MP and former minister John Penrose.
Highly rated by ministers, she was appointed to the NHS Improvement job in 2017.
During her confirmation hearing by the Commons health select committee, she refused its request for her to stop taking the Tory whip in the House of Lords, describing the idea as “tokenistic”.
Although her role in the NHS went largely unremarked, Hancock handed her the key post of “executive chair” of the new NHS Test and Trace service set up to rapidly expand testing and contact tracing to cope with the Covid outbreak.
NHS Test and Trace is not formally part of the NHS and its activities are coordinated by the Department of Health and Social Care.
Harding’s tenure has been dogged with problems, ranging from the failure to set up an in-house smartphone app to consistently missed targets on reaching 80% of “close contacts” of those who test positive for the virus.
But Hancock and prime minister Boris Johnson have both repeatedly praised her for her “brilliant” work on the pandemic. Allies say that she has worked tirelessly and unpaid for NHS Test and Trace.
Critics point to her record at TalkTalk where the company suffered a major data breach and was given a record £400,000 fine for failing to protect customers details from a Hack attack.
Harding is already paid £60,000 a year as a director of the private firm MindGym and £25,000 a year as deputy chair of the Bank of England’s court of directors.
Shadow health minister Alex Norris said: “Nurses on the frontline using food banks or families denied the opportunity to see grandparents because of local lockdowns will be appalled at revelations this Tory peer has pocketed thousands of pounds worth of taxpayers cash.
“And it only adds insult that this same top Boris Johnson crony is set to carry on pocketing while in charge of the new Health Protection Institute despite failing to deliver a world beating Test and Trace service as we were promised.”
Layla Moran, the Lib Dem MP who chairs the all-party parliamentary group on coronavirus, said: “This money will be seen as a reward for failure at a time when NHS staff are already underpaid and public health experts are warning of an exodus due to the top down reorganisation of PHE.
“Dido Harding’s untransparent appointment to chair the PHE replacement agency was already questionable given woeful record on Test and Trace and Talk Talk before that. But to hear she has been rewarded with such a sum adds insult to injury.
“To salvage any credibility in the government plans Matt Hancock has to now explain why this money was value for taxpayers and what problems this new agency is trying to solve. What we absolutely have to avoid is a rearranging of the deckchairs on this Titanic of a project and ensure someone with real knowledge and competence is at the helm.”
But a department of health source mounted a strong defence of the peer, stressing that there was a big difference in responsibility between board members and being chair of a board.
“In her role for NHS Improvement, Dido is 100% across everything and treats it like a chief exec job. She’s worth every penny,” the source said.
“If you were trying to make money off the taxpayer you wouldn’t take a high profile job like Test and Trace and work the hours she does for free. If that’s cronyism, we aren’t very good at it.
“There are plenty of people in other parties who have been appointed to public sector boards and just turned up and did the bare minimum. She’s shown she is not doing this for the money. Her enthusiasm and inability to be tired is rivalled only by the Secretary of State.”
NHS Improvement refused to comment. But it did not deny that its new annual report – due in coming days – would show that Harding had received £60,000-65,000 for 2019/20, as well as for 2018/19.
It is understood that Harding works between two and three days a week on average for NHS Improvement, but it is unclear how much time she devotes to each of her roles or how they will work with her new job chairing the National Institute for Health Protection.Related... NHS Test And Trace Misses Contact Target Ninth Week In Row Matt Hancock's Scrapping Of Public Health England Reignites Debate Over NHS Privatisation Test And Trace Chief Baroness Harding To Head New Health Agency
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