The National Audit Office (NAO) recently issued its report on the government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, dealing a hefty blow to the ruling Tory party’s credibility at a time when it is mired in yet another round of sleaze allegations.
The one thing that many people believed that the present government had got right was its handling of the health crisis, but the NAO’s findings can only add to the number who are changing their minds.
Ignoring all the warnings
The report clearly points out that the government had abysmally failed to prepare for any Covid-like outbreak, ignoring all the lessons of epidemic exercises like Winter Willow, a large-scale pandemic simulation that was carried out in 2007.
This exercise had flagged up the need for business continuity plans to be better coordinated between organisations, but no action was taken to put this finding into practice. Had such warnings been heeded and actioned, the initial response to Covid-19 would certainly have been quicker and better, saving many thousands of lives.
Another factor was the dithering, contradictory, and often plain stupid advice that was given out by ministers at the start of the outbreak, which helped to fuel a very robust internet-centred conspiracy movement. The conspiracy theories are also contradictory, but such is the level of distrust in our rulers and their motivations that many people ignored all official advice as suspect and depended instead upon their own version of ‘common sense’ to guide their actions.
Another previous exercise from which lessons were ignored was Exercise Cygnus, a pandemic simulation held in 2016. The government at the time noted that “consideration should be given to the ability of staff to work from home, particularly when staff needed access to secure computer systems”. Yet three years later, when Covid-19 hit, “many departmental business continuity plans did not include arrangements for extensive home working”.
We know that while the government did have a personal protective equipment (PPE) stockpile, it was inadequate and not up to the required specifications. We also know that the country was “not fully prepared” for the “wide-ranging impacts” that such a disease would have on “society, the economy, and essential public services – lacking detailed plans on shielding, job support schemes and school disruption”.
Meg Hillier, chair of the House of Commons public accounts committee, commented: “the report shows that government failed to learn some of the lessons from previous emergencies and its own practice exercises”, adding: “Its plans focused more on the health impacts of a pandemic, rather than the wider social and economic impacts.”
Profiteers paid handsomely for neither tracking nor tracing
The NAO report is also heavily critical of the government’s track and trace programme. In fact, said the audit office, the poor performance of NHS Test and Trace, which failed either to track or isolate the virus from the community, and signally failed in its stated ambition of preventing future lockdowns, actually acted as a “drag anchor” on efforts to tackle the pandemic.
The main reason for the abject failure of track and trace is not covered in the NAO report. However, an article in the September issue of Lalkar on corruption reveals that even in the face of this ever-changing virus, for which there was no vaccination at the time, our government’s policy was one of ‘friends first’.
Dido Harding, a former business leader with no experience of social programmes (but who happens to be the wife of a Tory MP), was placed in charge of the NHS’s test and trace programme, a programme that lacked any organisation and that achieved very little in the way of testing or tracing, but did cost the public funds an almost unimaginable £37bn!
We do not know what cut of that £37bn went to Dido for her sterling work, but we are sure she earned every penny! Meanwhile, Kate Bingham, daughter of Lord Bingham and wife of Jesse Norman, the financial secretary to the Treasury, was placed in charge of the vaccine task force – at what cost we don’t know.
We do know that contracts for personal protective equipment went to jewellers, pest controllers and confectionery companies, while a contract for glass vials went to the former landlord of Matt Hancock’s local pub, and an £840,000 contract to test ‘coronavirus messaging’ went to Public First, a company run by close associates of Michael Gove and Dominic Cummings.
Monopolists continue to raid the Treasury
While the sleaze and corruption have been particularly egregious and blatant during the pandemic, it is worth recognising that what we have witnessed is simply the usual operation of a capitalist economy. It is not a new phenomenon that corruption is endemic. Nor is it news that, when economic crisis strikes, the monopolists to whom our politicians answer are desperate to grab onto any and every opportunity for profit-taking.
If vaccines for Covid-19 had not been produced, we can only guess at how bad the situation might have become and how much more public money would have been thrown at various ‘health initiatives’ headed up by the friends and family of ministers and corporate lobbyists.
Already monopoly health providers, many with connections to current or former ministers, are lining up to receive huge contracts from the NHS (ie, from the tax payer) for the purpose of ‘cutting the waiting lists’ that are being attributed to the lockdowns, but which have in reality been carefully engineered over many years. Such contracts will serve the dual purpose of boosting the private health sector’s profits and further running down what remains of public health provision.
Taking credit for the development of an effective vaccine is now the last claim being clung to by our government, and many workers do feel that this claim is justified. But not many realise that while the vaccine was created by our universities using public funding, it was then passed as private intellectual property to big pharma for production and distribution – effecting yet another huge subsidy from the public purse to monopoly capital.
All in all, the report highlights what more and more people were coming to understand already: that the government’s role during the pandemic has been one of greed, corruption and lies, handing out huge sums of money to profit-hungry monopolists and lining their own pockets along the way.
The health of the workers was, it seems, the last thing on anybody’s mind.