Tuesday, 2 March 2021

The price of not planning for emergencies is about to be paid...

SO it looks as if we might have found our way out of the pandemic. Rather like many earlier diseases including influenza the answer is a vaccine. Of course we have a way to go to achieve a 100% secure inoculation but all the signs are good.

Like influenza, covid-19 is not going away. The virus will remain in circulation for decades yet. The hope is we can maintain control, limit its impact and in particular keep it out of our hospitals and mortuaries.

The time is fast approaching when we must do the reckoning. Blame will be easy to apportion – a lack-lustre government led by a mendacious and vacillating man whose inclination is always towards bullshit rather than brains, optimism rather than realism made worse by an assemblage of third rate ministers incapable of persuading their boss that the game was up.

But what to do? In fact that too is not difficult – BE PREPARED. Indeed you could put Boris in shorts and a toggle and almost hear him say it to his troop.

It was his Tory peers who got us into this mess. They who led us into the dark waters of unpreparedness. Them and their mantra of austerity have now cost us billions.

I read only the other day that the UK has only seven ICU (HDU) beds per 100,000 population compared to more than 20 in most European countries.

  • And we know from bitter experience that we had inadequate PPE.

  • And that we lacked spare hospital capacity due to the closing of wards formerly mothballed against emergency need.

  • And inadequate spare capacity of ventilators.

Plus we ended up building Nightingale bed farms for which we actually had no staff and no equipment and ultimately no use. And a long trusted test and trace system was allowed to decline and has had to be restored. It has taken almost a year!

As events unfolded we also proved incapable of marshalling forces to help us in a fiscally sound way. Instead we sprayed contracts worth billions at every old chum who put their hand up and ended up among other insanities with one car park in Kent (among many I will bet) in which either 48 or 96 containers full of rejected PPE will languish until we wake up and send it to help out in Africa.

So we also need to prepare a contacting process that can reliably and securely deliver contracts to suitable and proven sources in a secure and effective way without the need for protracted tendering processes.

This is all called Emergency Planning and it used to be something even I in my small way played a part. And it mattered. Every year the plans were dusted down, rehearsed, revised and restored to readiness. While I and the media practised messaging (which didn't go well either!) my colleagues were reviewing their suppliers, contracts, commitments.

Most important is to restore our state of preparedness for emergencies in general. There had been a disgraceful reduction before this pandemic and the cost of catch up probably is about one third of all the costs. Spending every year on readiness can save billions.

Friday, 5 February 2021

It's enough to make even Rishi Sunak cry....

THERE is a mantra that may have been heard a lot in the corridors of Whitehall and Westminster this past year. And it is a mantra that has always cost the public purse dear.

It is the eternal cry of the embattled politician, administrator or legislator and it is music to the ears of Public Relations men the world over:

We must be seen to be doing something...”

It may go a long way to explain why our dear government, backs to the wall in the Covid crisis, has been so busy throwing vast sums of taxpayers' money – this generation and the next two – into the corporate whirlpool run and controlled by their chums in the City and the Corporate headquarters of the world. The place where the politicians themselves hope to end up, guzzling greedily in their declining years.

What the mantra means is never mind what exists we need something new, bigger, shinier that we can “announce” to our public.

So, faced with the disaster that the stocks of PPE so willingly dumped during 'austerity' turned out fundamental when the chips were down, had to be resurrected by spewing dodgy contracts in the direction of any persuasive tycoon willing to swallow a few million of tax money.

So it was that faced with a similar and sudden realisation that actually having a few score spare ITC/HDU wards in mothballs was essential really not just extravagant that cash had to be hurled into the private sector to secure what should have been there already.

And when the shortage of what used to be called Iron Lungs, dumped due to 'austerity' became an issue yet more public money was found to persuade sharp eyed dealers to get busy. Or not very.

So it is that those pointless, unstaffable but hugely impressive and expensive and brilliantly mis-named Nightingale Hospitals came to be built, or at least 'created'. And then dumped, unused.

The list goes on and has now reached its zenith, although to be fair this time the effect has been impressive if arguably over priced.

I refer here to the the fact that, if you throw vast sums of money and promissory notes at organisations used to working in these difficult fields they will come up trumps in short order. I refer to 'Big Pharma' and its truly impressive ability to get brand new vaccines to jab-ready condition in a matter of months.

But there is more, for we have also witnessed the sudden development, construction and staffing of scores of vaccination hubs to deliver the inoculation that will, in the end drive coronavirus down to influenza status. When the job will be handed back to the systems already in place for the job, if tragically under-funded before the sudden need.

Exactly what all this will cost us, the taxpayer, down the line is a closely guarded secret just now. I have noticed that even Rishi Sunak's eyes appear to be watering at times. It will be a lot and take decades to amortise.

Yep, they sure have been seen to be doing something. When not justified by emergency as they are here many of these grand designs would be called vanity projects. Like HS2. What was needed was more investment in the northern transport services, especially east-west. What we have got is a more comfy ride for 20 minutes less for the London-Manchester brigade, usefully passing Birmingham en route. And a chance to charge a lot more for it.

The real problem is that after any period in which Government thinks it has to be able to announce big solutions to urgent problems the same old, same old cry goes up: Can't do that; no money, austerity... all is austerity.