A couple of weeks ago I took part in a virtual conference with a Tory Minister. You’d think she came from another Country or even, for that matter, another planet. Wherever it was she came from the Government had protected care homes, ensured there was track and trace in place and sorted PPE out quickly. So, she clearly had nothing to do with our Government!!
When the virus first struck everyone gave the Government the benefit of the doubt. Yes, they could have locked down quicker and started to test and trace people coming in from infected Countries. Yes, they should have moved quicker to stop events like the Liverpool/Milan game and the Cheltenham Festival which brough people together inappropriately. But they were learning. We know they were, at least in part, making it up as they went along. They had to because no one had had to govern for anything like this pandemic for more than 100 years.
The Chancellor, in particular, was praised for his rapid decisions to do things that no Tory wants to do which involved spending money to people to keep them out of dole queues and to keep businesses afloat until the pandemic subsided. In fact, Sunak appears to be the only Cabinet Minister to come out of the problem period with his integrity relatively intact.
Then it all started to go wrong. Not quite at the level of Donald Trump in the USA but definitely in the same direction. And it really did go wrong. For the record:
- The UK (and England in Particular) has proportionately the highest level of excess deaths in Europe with the exception of Spain.
- The UK (and England in Particular) has proportionately the highest level of recorded deaths from Coronavirus in Europe with the exception of Spain.
- The UK (and England in Particular) has proportionately the highest level of infections in Europe with the exception of Spain.
- The UK has the most inefficient track and trace system in Western Europe
- The UK is suffering a worse recession than any other member of the G7 group of Countries
Firstly, far from placing ‘an arm around care homes’, they cleared hospitals out and returned sick people, untested, to care homes. Elderly residents who were ill were not allowed to go to hospital. GPs could not get into the care homes either to try and assist the ill and dying or to certify the true cause of their death. Staff, many from ethnic minorities and being paid the minimum wage, were left with little medical support and no PPE until in most cases Councils managed to support out a supply. In the care home nearest to me 17 residents died in just 4 days. Care workers and health workers have paid a heavy toll in lives lost for this basic incompetence.
Secondly, the Government set themselves ludicrous targets and then lied about achieving them. They set an arbitrary date on which they would reach 100k tests a day. Then they claimed that they had achieved this by sending out though the post a shed load of tests on the target day. Most of these tests, like others dispatched through the post, have not been returned.
Thirdly, they took no action against their own people who had broken the Government’s rules. Two Cabinet Ministers broke the rules but in a mild way and should have received a slap on the wrists. Cummings, who appears to have invented the rules, flagrantly flouted them. He didn’t even plausibly lie but just came up with a load of nonsense which was absolutely unbelievable. Perhaps because he is the real Prime Minister he remains in post. But successive surveys have shown that the unity of purpose of the British people which had observed lockdown and clapped for the NHS and carers began to break down from that point.
Fourthly, they began to shell out shedloads of tax payers cash to their mates. Contracts for track and trace to companies who had been fined for previous poor delivery of other services; PPE bought from China which had to be returned. Market research groups who had helped deliver Brexit commissioned to test (or perhaps distort) public opinion. A mate of a Minister sorting out a Track and Trace App which has never appeared and the purchase of PPE from Tory donors with no experience of health and social care procurement.
Fifthly, an air bridges policy which people had no faith in because of the way decisions were rapidly contradicted on what appears to be very slim evidence. People would have been much more accepting of the need for quick decisions if they had confidence in the Government but that faith has long been eroded.
Lastly, they have made an absolute mess of Track and Trace. The one thing that they have got right is that Track and Trace is a vital component in getting kids back to school, students back to University and people back to work They couldn’t have got this more wrong if they had tried! Remember the world class App which was going to be ready for June? It never happened although £16 million was spent on it. 18,000 people employed through Serco at a cost of £108 million many of whom have done very little work in 5 months and who have had a very response in tracing people and warning them. Only now has the system begun to give the evidence that is needed to people who can deliver track and trace – local Directors of Public Health, their councils and local groups who know their communities and are trusted by them.
Here in Liverpool our Council has done well. They have used the information grudgingly given them by the Government to isolate specific communities and people within those communities where a spike was occurring. They then mobilised local faith groups, community centres, health services and community leaders to spread the word about problems and encourage people to tell more about who they may have infected or been infected by. This has meant that our two spikes have been rapidly contained because people trusted the people giving and receiving the information. This wasn’t a remote and disembodied tracer ringing from anywhere in the UK but a mate from round the corner.
It is not only track and trace where the Councils have stepped into the breach but also on support for the care sector; distribution of PPE; coordination between the NHS the care sector; other parts of the public sector and the community. It’s at the local level that effective decisions have been made and taxpayers money effectively spent. It’s at a national level that there has been ineffective decision making and use of resources.
Yet there are siren voices in the Tory Party who still, in spite of all the evidence call for centralised decision making and a centralised care service. The NHS is full of great people but efficient it is not. The idea of a parallel care service with layer after layer of out of touch bureaucrats is definitely scary!
So well done local government. You’ve risen to the occasion and worked miracles with insufficient information and resources. Just think what we could if we were properly resourced and local decisions about local issues and local priorities could be made by the professionals and councillors who have elected to make such decisions.