Victorian government spent $1m on hotel quarantine consultants as costs went over budget, inquiry told | Victoria

The Victorian government spent $1m on consultants for the botched hotel quarantine program, as costs for managing returned travellers went tens of millions of dollars over budget.

Documents tabled to the Victorian hotel quarantine inquiry last week reveal the program, as of the end of June, had blown out by $24m, to over $130m forecast for the year, but this was reduced to just over $11m for the state government when accounting for the commonwealth contribution under the national partnership agreement.

The increase in costs was attributed in part to an extra $22.1m on security and hotel activation costs and an extra $1.2m on call centre operations.

The documents reveal that as of the end of June, the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions was expecting to spend over $1m on consultants for the hotel quarantine program alone, with Boston Consulting Group picking up $393,000, PwC being paid almost $304,000, and Deloitte being paid almost $200,000, with more expected to be spent.

The Australian has reported that premier Daniel Andrews spent $3.5m on “Covid consultants” from KPMG for advice on the entire pandemic.

The vast bulk of the $130m the state government has spent on hotel quarantine went to the hotels in the program ($62m) and the security for those hotels ($60m).

The documents, which predate the Victorian government’s decision to hand over the security of the hotel quarantine program to Corrections Victoria, show the department was attempting to save money being spent on security in the hotels through “operational efficiencies” and stated significant money could have been saved if Victoria had used the Australian Defence Force as had been used in NSW and Queensland.

Infection control breaches in two hotels – Rydges on Swanston and the Stamford Plaza Hotel – have accounted for 99% of all Covid-19 in the state since the end of May.

Security guards in focus

This week the inquiry heard from security firms and subcontractors to those firms working in the two hotels. Unified Security had staff at the Rydges, while MMS Security had staff at the Stamford Plaza.

The inquiry heard at least 14 security guards tested positive for Covid-19 in the hotel program. Seven working for United Risk Management subcontracting to MSS, six working for Sterling Security for Unified Security, and one working for The Security Hub for MSS.

Carpooling for security guards was not prohibited by some of the companies involved until after one guard who had been carpooling tested positive.

Mina Attalah, United Risk Management’s managing director, told the inquiry he believed one of his staff who shared a car with another who tested positive could have picked it up while carpooling, while he said another two guards also shared a floor with the same guard and later tested positive.

At shift changeover for guards, there were reports of up to 70 guards in a room at one time. MSS manager Sam Krekelis told the inquiry that after complaints, the rosters were divided to ensure everyone wasn’t signing on at the same time.

We had half signing on at one time, and the other halves signing on at a different time,” he said. “That’s making sure that congestion in that space would not occur again.”

Security firms expressed frustration with departmental authorised officers managing the operations of the hotels for providing conflicting advice on when to wear gloves.

Ishu Gupta, the managing director of The Security Hub, said on Thursday the authorised officers changed too frequently.

“There were a new set of instructions that were provided … and their understanding of how to use gloves was different from one to another,” he said. “It was a real concern that they’ve been asked to not use gloves all the time.”

Multiple security firms have also told the inquiry they were responsible for providing personal protective equipment for their staff working in the hotels.

A security guard working for Sterling, who previously gave evidence to the inquiry, said that he worked as a delivery driver in addition to his guard shift. The guard later tested positive for Covid-19.

Sam Aggarwal, Sterling security director, told the inquiry while he believed there were no formal restrictions given to the guards, they were “verbally encouraged” not to do work elsewhere.

“They were getting good hours while working with us in the hotels, so we strongly recommended to them that, not to do any [other] work outside of this job,” he said.

The firms have said subcontractors who tested positive were required to stay home, or were put into a quarantine hotel as required, and were paid not to work.

Source: The Guardian

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