Frustrated London council chiefs have blamed the failure of the Government’s “world beating” test and trace system on its early refusal to involve local authorities.

New figures have shown the £12 billion NHS project is still failing to reach 40 per cent of close contacts of people testing positive six months after it was launched.

Senior town hall bosses said the initial decision to create a centralised system using call centres to contact people hundreds of miles away fatally undermined its effectiveness.

Julian Bell, leader of Labour-controlled Ealing council, said: “If they’d taken the decision [to involve councils] early on, we’d be in a much better position now. We’ll end up with more people in hospital and who die as a result.”

Local authorities are now more involved in test and trace but critics say the earlier decision to overlook them contributed to the second wave of infections this autumn.

Mr Bell said: “The horse has bolted. We’ve missed the opportunity because of an automatic assumption in government that a centralised solution is what’s required when actually, whether it’s delivering food packages to shielding residents or PPE,  a local solution is better.”

Jason Strelitz, Newham council director of public health, said: “Too much of the conversation has been on contact tracing as a technical exercise to be completed in a call centre.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “NHS test and trace is breaking chains of transmission thanks to local and national teams working hand in glove. Councils in London have received over £60 million in government funding to develop and implement action plans to reduce the spread of coronavirus in their area.”