Eight executives at NHS Test and Trace have been earning more than the Prime Minister, with some paid more than £240,000 annually, official records show.
Many of its highest-paid staff are from retail backgrounds, with former directors of Waitrose, Sainsbury's and Aldi among those earning the most.
With Britain in the grip of a "pingdemic" – with more than 1.2 million isolation orders a week being sent out by NHS Test and Trace and its app – MPs on Saturday night criticised the "fat cat salaries" for the civil servants running the system.
Government data show vast sums being spent by the organisation, which has been heavily criticised for its performance despite "unimaginable" resources during the pandemic.
Earlier this year, the Commons Public Accounts Committee accused the system of treating taxpayers like a "cash machine," urging ministers to justify the £37 billion two-year budget for Test and Trace.
Its damning report said NHS Test and Trace had hit none of its key targets, despite a business case claiming it would avert a second national lockdown.
The report in March urged Test and Trace to "wean itself off" a reliance on thousands of expensive consultants, on rates of almost £7,000 a day.
But the new records show that during the first quarter of this financial year, eight of the 10 highest paid civil servants at the Department of Health and Social Care were working for NHS Test and Trace.
Highest paid were Gareth Williams, formerly chief people officer and now chief operating officer, and Ben Stimson, who was chief customer officer until he left in May. Both were on salaries of between £240,000 and £245,000 a year. Mr Williams is a former head of human resources at Sainsburys, while Mr Stimpson was previously retail director at Waitrose.
The figures show Mark Hewlett, testing chief operating officer, a former buying director for Aldi, on a salary of between £220,000 and £225,000.
Meanwhile, Adam Wheelwright, chief information officer, a former banking executive, was paid between £200,000 and £205,000, as was Simon Bolton, then chief technology and information officer. Mr Bolton, a former chief information officer of Jaguar Land Rover, remains on the same salary in a new role as NHS Digital interim chief executive.
Other high earners include Robert Howes, a former director at Astra Zeneca, who is now director of the government's new "megalab" in Royal Leamington Spa, on £180,000 to £185,000. The lab, hailed by ministers as “future-proofing” Britain against pandemics opened earlier this month, but was found to be running at less than 10 per cent capacity.
As Prime Minister, Boris Johnson is entitled to an annual salary of £161,401, but took £157,372 in the 2020-2021 financial year.
When NHS Test and Trace was set up, led by Baroness Harding, a Tory peer, Mr Johnson promised a “world-beating” tracing system. But it has repeatedly failed to hit key targets.
Last December the National Audit Office revealed that at some points, call handlers working for NHS Test and Trace spent just one per cent of their time working.
It came after workers spoke of how they were effectively being paid to "watch Netflix", with one describing receiving £4,500 without receiving a single call.
Baroness Harding, a previous chief executive of TalkTalk, who previously held senior roles at supermarkets Sainsbury’s and Tesco, did not draw a government salary for her role at NHS Test and Trace. Earlier this year, she applied to become chief executive of the health service, but was ruled out several weeks before Amanda Pritchard, the current NHS deputy, was appointed to the top job.
The Test and Trace programme is now run by the UK Health Security Agency, launched in April, led by Dame Jenny Harries, the former deputy chief medical officer.
Last night, Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, said: "Test and Trace was supposed to be 'world beating' saving us from repeated from lockdowns. Instead we've seen fat cat salaries for bosses, haphazard contact tracing and strains on testing.
"This is taxpayers' money and at a time when the NHS is struggling and staff want a fair pay deal, ministers must explain why they signed off these bumper pay cheques."
Latest figures show, 597,260 people ordered to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace in the week ending July 21, the highest figure since January, with 678,102 people "pinged" by the app.
Rising numbers of people testing positive for Covid are refusing to hand over details of close contacts. The most recent figures show almost one quarter of people testing positive would not provide details of any recent close contacts.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: "This year more than ever the department needed to attract, recruit and retain highly skilled individuals, both permanently and temporarily, to respond to the unprecedented demands created by Covid-19.
"We have drawn upon the highest-standard of expertise in dealing with this global public health crisis. This has resulted in the largest diagnostics network in UK history through an NHS Test and Trace system which can identify and cut transmission rates – protecting people's health, saving lives and helping to stop the spread of the virus."
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