What has the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic done for us?
Firstly, it’s made us stop and think hard about the future, and what we can do to make it better for everyone.
Secondly, it’s exposed developments over the past few decades which have left our country weaker in facing current and future shocks to the system.
Now we cautiously begin the difficult task of re-starting business, services and education. New coronavirus infections are still in the thousands; people are still dying. Effective testing and contact tracing, isolating local outbreaks before they spread, is crucial to keeping us well and society functioning.
Why is the local knowledge and public health expertise of our long-established Directors of Public Health and GPs bypassed in favour of outsourcing companies lacking the local knowledge and understanding so vital to an effective test, track and trace system?
Why is this essential work for public safety entrusted to outsourcing company Serco and multinational accountancy firm Deloitte? Serco’s long history of failure and falsifying data, as in Cornwall’s out-of-hours GP service, does not inspire confidence.
Tragically, procurement, management and distribution of vital PPE for health workers and carers has been chaotic and inadequate. Why was it outsourced to a bewildering jumble of private companies on multi-million-pound contracts?
Well, this is how our country, since the turn of the 1990s, is accustomed to providing essential public services. It conveniently outsources tiresome responsibilities from elected government to commercial companies, whose priority is shareholder profits. Quality of service comes a poor second, regulation is weak, and fines for service failure and fraudulent practice are priced into business costs. From local councils to national utilities, the unquestioning belief has been ‘Private Good, Public Bad’.
Sharp practice rebranded as competition and cover-ups as ‘commercial confidentiality’; non-profit public service denigrated as ‘not in the real world’; increasing fragmentation, disorganisation and marketisation of the NHS as key services are handed out to private companies; care for the elderly and vulnerable managed by hedge funds gambling on financial markets; this is the system we have become accustomed to, even while our taxes pay the profits and bonuses of the outsourcing companies.
Well, it turns out that boring old public service and government accountability is important after all. Slick PR, shiny shareholder prospectuses and lucrative directorships for ex-politicians and regulators aren’t actually what we need when times are tough. Time to think again.
If you’d like more on this subject, visit www.weownit.org.uk