The ‘super-driven’ ex-TalkTalk chief behind England’s track-and-trace scheme

With UK’s route of lockdown dependent on success, Dido Harding faces a huge challenge

Dido Harding at the No 10 Press briefing

Baroness Harding has been brought in to drive the government’s new test and trace programme.
Photograph: Pippa Fowles/10 Downing Street/AFP/Getty Images

The ex-TalkTalk chief executive Dido Harding is facing one of the biggest moments in her eventful career, as she leads the government’s new track and trace programme upon which the country’s path out of lockdown depends.

Baroness Harding, 52, the chair of NHS Improvement, was brought in to shoulder the responsibility of this significant new strategy, personally risking the fall out of it does not go to plan.

Sources close to her say she has made a great start on the detail and is “super-driven” to succeed. She sees things from the “customer experience” and is passionate about getting it right, one source said.

Guardian graphic

She is one of the most high-profile women involved in the coronavirus response, and it is likely the health secretary, Matt Hancock, will look to her to provide the details and direction of the scheme, which has endured a bumpy journey so far.

Hancock faced weeks of criticism for the government’s decision to abandon initial contact tracing efforts on 12 March.

Hardingconfidently presented the rules and “new principles”, as Hancock described it, in her first appearance at the Downing Street press conference, drawing a line under past efforts.

Such was her confidence in the new strategy – which involves 25,000 contact tracers – she said: “If anything I’m worried that many of my brilliant contact tracers are not going to be very busy as we start to encourage more people to get a test.” She said there was “easily enough to trace down the contacts today when the vast majority of us are in lockdown.”

The Isle of Wight contact, track and trace app trial provides a major challenge. Beset by delays, a version of the app has yet to be rolled out nationwide.

Harding was made a peer in 2014 by David Cameron. Just a year later she was at the eye of the storm in the TalkTalk hacking scandal which saw the details of 156,959 customers, including names, emails and phone numbers, and 15,000 bank account numbers accessed by hackers with the company receiving a record £400,000 fine from the information commissioner.

About 18 months later she resigned saying she wanted to focus on “more activities in public service”.

She is married to Tory MP and former minister, John Penrose, and has previously worked in management for Sainsbury’s and Tesco. She is a non-executive director on the Court of the Bank of England and chair of the bank’s renumeration committee.