Monday, 27 July 2020

More about the billion £s of PPE we did not get...

Some may recall that I recently wrote to my MP, the Rt Hon James Cleverly, regarding the issue surrounding the placing of something close to a billion £s of government contracts for PPE with companies who were manifestly unsuited to the task or who have not delivered or both.
He has replied. I take some small comfort from the following line in his response, which is otherwise anodyne: " If it is the case that contract commitments are not met, I am confident that my colleagues in the department will take action against organisations which have received money from taxpayers; I will certainly monitor this issue extremely closely."
The full transcript of his reply is here:
Dear Richard,
Thank you for contacting me about the supply of personal protective equipment to people working in health and social care.
I would like to reassure you that ensuring our frontline staff are properly protected is of paramount importance to me, and to my colleagues on all sides of Parliament. I know that my colleague the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care is taking this issue extremely seriously, and I welcome the collaboration between officials, NHS staff and our armed services over the past few months to help distribute supply of the equipment. I will continue to closely scrutinise steps being taken to ensure that all health and social care staff, whether they work in the NHS or other care facilities, are adequately protected and able to carry out their vital roles safely.
As part of an unprecedented response to this pandemic, my colleagues in the Department of Health and Social Care have drawn on the expertise and resources of a number of public and private sector partners to support our NHS and social care sector. PPE is created to strict specifications and requirements in order to ensure the safety of its users. The Government has published these specifications online and sought to hear from any manufacturers who can produce PPE in line with these requirements.
It is a testament to the ingenuity of British businesses that they have been able to adapt existing resources in a time of great need for the country, and I am extremely grateful to all organisations that have offered their services at this time. I am confident that these providers will be held to the highest standards to ensure that the best service possible is delivered. If it is the case that contract commitments are not met, I am confident that my colleagues in the department will take action against organisations which have received money from taxpayers; I will certainly monitor this issue extremely closely.
I welcome the creation of a cross-government PPE unit, led by Lord Deighton who helped deliver the London 2012 Olympics, to secure new supply lines from across the world. It has published rigorous standards against which it will buy. Expert procurement professionals have been drafted in to identify PPE suppliers from across the globe to meet the increasing demand for a growing list of PPE products. The Government taking an open source approach and involving partners around the world in a co-ordinated procurement programme. This is only one strand in the approach to increasing future supply of PPE. The Government is also calling on our homegrown industries to come forward to create new PPE manufacturing capabilities in the UK. Many businesses have generously come forward with offers to turn over their production lines as part of the national effort.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
I have responded to him in the following terms:
Dear Mr Cleverly,
I thank you for your reply in which I take some small comfort from the following line: "I am confident that my colleagues in the department will take action against organisations which have received money from taxpayers; I will certainly monitor this issue extremely closely."
My own confidence is not as high and I too shall watch developments closely over the coming weeks and months. In due course there has to be some sort of reckoning for what has, or more notably, has not transpired during this emergency.
Yours faithfully,
Richard Woods

Saturday, 11 July 2020

What is wrong with this Government? Can it not get anything right?

I was writing this as Johnson announced further relaxations...

At the outset I have to confess a serious distrust of all Tories and a horror of corruption in high places. So there is no chance I shall be soft in my criticism of Johnson and co. Still less when they have committed the cardinal sin of allowing a special adviser to take such extraordinary control over governmental affairs.
And of course panic causes strange effects. And there has never been more reason for panic than the onset of a killer virus that is a global pandemic. And one for which there is no obvious treatment and as yet no real sign of a vaccine.
But frankly events of the past few months go much further than mere failure to come up to scratch in the extraordinarily tough environment of a global catastrophe.
It all started with the utterly insane idea of 'herd immunity'. For that you need 60-70% of your sample to have had the disease AND be guaranteed immune. That might be OK for the common cold but this things kills and leaves others virtually disabled for life. And while spread is uncomfortably fast it is also too slow to wait that long. The man who said it should have been removed as far from the levers of power as possible. The Isle of Rockall for example. But instead they invited him in... and he is still here!

At my age and with my experience of emergency planning I am utterly astonished at the mess we have got ourselves in. Until, that is, I consider the previous decade of austerity.
Emergencies are planned for. That is a given, or should be. They always happen. Usually at the worst possible time. But this is what you have a Civil Service for. Complete with scientific and medical and technological and logistical expertise to look into the future, judge the need, and provide the essentials.
But the Tories are notoriously bad at planning ahead. And even worse at spending in advance of need. And worse still at laying the foundations of a public and welfare state.
So in the years of austerity they have cut and cut again. And those cuts have more than decimated our levels of preparedness. Made far worse by an accountancy juggle called Just In Time. And another called Current Cost Accounting.

Let me explain a little. Under older regimes you bought in advance what you needed for say one year's production, generation, activity, emergency. And stockpiled it. This was, the bean counters considered too costly. Expensive warehouses, armies of men with clip boards checking date, lifetime etc.
How much better they said to make it when you need it. So empty the warehouses, sack the checkers. Calculate your costs on the real costs, not cost plus storage and maintenance. Prices will come down. Prices did not come down. You may have noticed a steady rise.

And then there was the cost of building stuff. Depreciation. Build a hospital for £100m and calculate that it would lose value at say £5m a year, reaching zero at 20 years when replacement needed to be considered. But wait. That might be OK for Government but businesses need assets. So value the hospital at the cost of replacement RIGHT NOW. That way the asset would grow year on year and you could borrow squillions against the assets. Privatise those state businesses and guess what? They all use CCA instead of Historic Cost Accounting. They all have inflated asset books and vast debts, protected by assets that are actually not worth much at all.

How does this affect Government and emergency planning? Well for emergencies you need hospitals bigger than you do for day by day activity. So some wards were maintained but kept empty against sudden need. Some Intensive Care Units (or HDUs or whatever) ditto. And a score or two of big stuff like ventilators. If you do not have them when the crisis comes you have to build Nightingale units Just In Time.. too late!

And PPE? Yes of course, millions of items in store, kept under review and replaced as time wore on. Hand it all to the private sector and guess what? They dump it, fail to replace, argue for Just in Time (while actually CCA-ing the stuff!). And yes they did. So no PPE when it is needed. And you are not in the buying club either so a scramble to find it when you need it. People die.
And arrangements to use private services? Not kept up to date so not available at time of need. And so thousands of elderly crisis patients are sent back to care home to make space in the hospitals for the crisis you failed to plan for. And thousands die in agony, killing many of their carers.
And now we read of vast millions of contracts placed with unqualified and even insolvent companies to supply critical equipment. And without any safeguarding procedures. And often with mates of cabinet members.

And the much-vaunted Civil Service, who know about all these things and have done for years? Retired, redundant, too costly, austerity.... replaced with unskilled, incompetent special advisers with agendas and secret deals.

You can only blame Johnson and his bunch of buffoons. They were picked for their enthusiasm for Brexit, not their intelligence, experience or proven skills. They are incompetent and inept. They listen too willingly to their backers and their special advisers, fooled into believing these people know best.

Meanwhile the relatively few Tories with real public service ethics have been sidelined or left to grow old and go fallow. There is no way back for a generation. This cadre of clowns has been given five years (FIVE YEARS) to govern by another crackpot decision. They are praying that two things will happen: 1 - we will all forget what utter idiots they were and 2 - that in time they will get the hang of it.
Meanwhile people die, people go hungry, children miss school, families collapse, suicides happen, jobs vanish, food fails to reach the shelves, prices soar, medicines disappear, prices soar, theatre and halls close, libraries vanish, museums get dusty, HS2 never appears but costs squillions, Trident gets replaced but still isn't any use...
Can we really let this go on for another four years?