Category Archives: Public Policy

Exit Opportunity

As both sides of the Covid restrictions debate put their cases to either end or extend it is clear that any choice will cause an outcry from someone.

The steady increase in new case numbers is ammunition for the extenders while the low hospital admissions and deaths encourages those hoping for an end to the restrictions. With five days to go until the decision day for England the current favourite looks to be a compromise that lifts some of the restrictions but keeps the politicians in control – and in the media spotlight. So most likely indoor venues such as theatres and cinemas will re-open as planned – but with face masks as a requirement until a further review in another five weeks.

gettingajob1Despite this easing overseas travel will remain problematic – since so many destinations are not ready to accept foreign tourists. An issue that the UK media seems to have gone quiet about in recent months. In fact many British sun-seekers seem oblivious to the conditions in their chosen destinations.

Some anti-government figures have expressed opinions that the UK Covid death toll is the worst in Europe because of government mishandling of the response. And it is true that 127,854 UK deaths is a shocking total. But after some digging into the international statistics the actual wider data is eye-opening.

Italy is recorded with 126,767 Covid deaths just one place behind the UK in the available statistics. While France is two places lower with 110,137 deaths reported. So in total reported numbers the UK is the worst nation in Europe. However … UK death statistics include cases where Covid was not the actual cause; a different approach to many other countries’ health stats.

If instead we look at deaths per million of population the national positions are much different. And the European counties with the worst figures are –

Hungary 3,101/million
Bosnia and Herzegovina 2,902/million
Czechia 2,815/million
Gibraltar 2,791/million
San Marino 2,647/million
North Macedonia 2,624/million
Bulgaria 2,589/million
Montenegro 2,541/million
Slovakia 2,276/million
Belgium 2,153/million
Slovenia 2,112/million
Italy 2,100/million
Croatia 1,985/million
Poland 1,967/million
UK 1,874/million

So relative to population the UK is far from being the outlier in Europe. It would, of course, be far better if the UK was more like New Zealand – with just 5/million!

At least our vaccination programme has mitigated the consequences of infection and greatly reduced the death rate. With almost 60% of the population (77% of adults) now having at least one dose the mass rollout of vaccine has broken the link between infection and serious illness. A programme that has also been successful employed by Gibraltar, Malta, Isle of Man, San Marino and Jersey, amongst others, to cut the risks for both the locals and tourists. In Gibraltar they have gone so far as to have vaccinated more than 100% of its population – by extended its coverage to the EU workers that commute in from Spain.

So will the UK nations be allowed the opportunity to exit from the Covid emergency powers? Or is that old observation that governments take emergency powers but never fully give them back still holding true? We shall soon see …

You Heard It Here First

In a surprise move the SNP have announced changes that they claim will strengthen Scotland’s case for EU membership.

Schuko-plug1The first change being the immediate adoption of the Euro electrical plugs and sockets in all homes and offices. A government spokesperson stating that the adoption of the Schuko design was far superior to the old English models and brought Scotland in-line with its future EU partners.

The second change being a switch-over to driving on the right and banning the sales of English right-hand drive vehicles. The reasons for this being driving on the left or right does not apply on the many single-track roads, the plentiful supply of second-user left-hand drive limos available in Brussels and to bring Scotland in-line with its future EU partners.

The final change announced this morning being the surprise embargo on the importation of Yorkshire Puddings – on the grounds that such English products do not comply with the EU rules for batter-based food products that come into effect today. Rules that are routinely adopted by the Scottish Parliament to bring Scotland in-line with its future EU partners.

Interestingly these changes were published online in English, Scots Gaelic .. and French. Yes – to bring Scotland in-line with its future EU partners.

The Grass Is Greener

The EU’s Green Pass vaccine passport should be in place between 17-May and 1-June 2021 according to reports quoting Eurocrat Margaritis Schinas – the European Commission Vice-President assigned to the Promoting our European Way of Life Department (that is not a joke!). Being an EU scheme it does not cover the UK – or indeed anywhere else.

Get-Away-300So after the threats to block vaccine supplies are played out the next revenge move could well involve the EU requiring travellers to have one of their new passports – while making sure that all UK applicants are either restricted, blocked or forced to pay dearly for the privilege. A move that could make places like Israel, Gibraltar, Australia etc move further up every desirable holiday destinations list.

However quite how travel to the Irish Republic from the non-EU world would work is not clear – and could prove a further problem for the citizens of Northern Ireland. A part of the UK that is being forced to act as a purgatory between the evil UK and the heaven that is the EU. [Do I get my EU funding now?]

Meanwhile the UK news media report that a Covid Status Certificate is being considered for the UK. But also reporting opinions that any UK domestic vaccine passport would be discriminatory and that discriminating on grounds of jabs would be illegal.

Looks like travel companies will have to tread very carefully if they are to avoid expensive litigation …

Viral Threat 2021

Twelve months ago the new Wuhan virus was very much a Chinese problem. One that would not spread worldwide and, like earlier infectious, such as Ebola or SARS,  would be contained before it infected us in the UK. Wrong!

Man1We now have the prospect of UK Covid-related deaths reaching 100,000 before too long. And this is against a backdrop of almost 93 million cases and 2 million deaths world wide. But vaccines have been developed, approved, mass produced and started to be distributed – so deaths and serious infections should start to decline by summer time. If the promises hold true.

Then we, like many countries, will have to assess how our nation gets back to something approaching normal. This is going to be difficult after so much disruption to both the economy and our daily lives. If the Government spends billions to boost business then it could be a catalyst for a new Roaring Twenties. A period where the young and rich party like there’s no tomorrow, the stock markets boom and many old fashions are discarded.

But having already spent billions of borrowed money spending even more restarting damaged businesses might just burst the bubble. And the Roaring Twenties could be followed by an almighty crash … just like the 1920s.

Frantic Finish

It’s evening and the House of Lords has been passed a parcel. Not as a game to cheer up the holidays but in the form of that elusive deal with our former overlords – the European Union. They need to pass it on to our head of state for the final stage. And that needs to be quick so that the Queen can retire at a reasonable time – she is 94 after all.

Cunning_Plan_160Tomorrow should start out with all the legal steps completed and just one more day of transition before we are out of the EU. The predicted last-minute fait accompli bill did get through Westminster. But at least some of the politicians did make a big effort to search for any serious issues – and their green light helped it get through with a massive majority. Now for seeing how the deal works in practice … and how our European Friends treat us.

Just to add to frantic atmosphere reports of rapidly increasing Covid cases triggered the Heath Secretary moving all Tier 2 regions into Tier 3 – and many Tier 3 into Tier 4. While the Education Secretary rushed to push back the start date for school attendance back by one or two weeks. At least the other rushed announcement was good news – in that another vaccine had passed the approval process. And this one will be usable with room temperature storage …

So a lonely New Years Eve for most of the UK – but some rays of hope that summer 2021 will see the start of a new Roaring Twenties.

Tides’s In Time’s Out

Well our Westminster MPs have been packed off to their homes or constituencies without seeing anything resembling a trade deal with the European Union. Despite another fifteen days having passed little has changed in the mass media headlines and opinion pieces despite lots of talks and briefings.

Grandad3And the few changes that have happened don’t add up to much. At the bookies the sentiment has swung from deal to no deal and amongst EU politicians the stress levels have jumped with each day that passes.

Meanwhile out at sea the EU trawlers seem to have upped their policy of scooping up all marine life – whether saleable or not – to leave nothing in the waters that the UK gets back. A very short-sighted policy and one that confirms they expect to face UK controls shortly. Surprising the BBC seems to be trying to ignore what is happening – despite claiming a leading role in ecology issues. Yet Trawler-watch is one programme they have not scheduled.

So New Year 2021 is just two weeks away and the Brexit saga still drags on .. Will some last minute deal appear? Will MPs get recalled before year end? … Will we all wake up to find 2020 was a bad dream? .. Pass the port and mince pies I need to forget …

What About Us?

As the SNP prepare for a non-binding vote on leaving the UK next year – they have also put in a demand for another £98,000 million from the UK Treasury to fund regional business recovery.

Before going any further lets just have a basic fact check to put things in context.

Man3Scotland has a population of 5.4 million – exactly the same as Yorkshire. So that extra £98,000 million equates to £18,148 more for every adult and child in Scotland. A huge amount that has to be paid by us all out of UK-wide taxation. Note that this is in addition to a range of other benefits, some unique to Scotland, that are paid out of UK-wide contributions.

For those Grandads with grandchildren hoping to get to university – it is only those families resident in Scotland that will get their tertiary education for free. The tens of thousands paid out or borrowed by students in England will – in Scotland – be funded by … UK-wide taxation.

And for anyone who currently has to pay for prescription medicines the fact that Scotland uses tax income from the UK to give them out for free does not go down well.

This generosity is sometimes claimed to be justified because Scotland’s tax payers pay more than in the rest of the UK. But this claim is clearly shown to be false because the scale of the benefits received is far higher than any marginal tax variations.

Take the example of the BBC. The 2.5 million households in Scotland are able to receive not just additional national programs but also have a dedicated channel – BBC Alba. The fact that BBC Alba often has tiny audiences does not matter since the TV Licence payments that fund it are UK wide. So no need to live within their income limits.

Meanwhile in England the regional content for our same-sized example – Yorkshire – is being cutback from a level that was already well below that of the Scottish services. A situation repeated in local government. With Scotland having a very expensive modern parliament building and a full house of MSPs plus their support staff while poor relation Yorkshire has to make do with a few elected mayors, no building and minimal funding.

Just to add icing to the cake it was announced yesterday that Scotland has become the only country in the world to provide free and universal access to period products. It is estimated to cost about £8.7m a year and will not be means-tested. Not a big cost – if accurate – but then it’s just one more little extra for the tax-payers to fund.

The budget estimates for any newly independent Scotland are going to need to be very creative to cover all of this expenditure with no more than 2.5 million households to tax ..

Update 30-Nov-2020 Untroubled by having to worry where the money will come from the SNP have agreed to fund free breakfasts and lunches for all primary school children – all year round. [Who needs parents?] And because the UK Government intends to reduce overseas aid the SNP have increased theirs by £2 million – despite still not having overseas aid as a devolved power. But their big idea for a golden future is for everyone in Scotland to move to a four-day working week while keeping their full five-day pay. So that’s 100% pay for 80% work … An interesting approach that has its advocates and lobby groups – to quote one of them One day in the future, hopefully soon, when the full-time working week is four days or less we’re going to look back on this period and think what on earth were we doing. Too true – but for quite a different reason…

Nightmare On High Streets

It’s Halloween – and as darkness fell the latest political response to the Covid pandemic was being prepared for broadcast to the nation; with suitable scary effect.

BoJo2After repeated delays the announcement came of closures of all non-essential retail venues and we took another step towards our town centres becoming ghost towns. The aim is to improve the situation in time for Christmas – but in practice the four weeks of closure will blast a big hole in the viability of many retailers. It will, after all, fall in the pre-Christmas shopping peak – a time that would normally see them through a quiet February and March.

Restaurants, clubs and pubs will all be closed – despite them spending millions on providing extensive virus security measures. The office Christmas lunch is most likely cancelled. True the furlough scheme will be extended but that will not save many retailers from collapse.

However with schools, colleges and universities still open the virus still has a route out to infect new victims – and may prove to be a big gap in the lock-down plans.

This year has been bad but 2021 will start off worse ….

Going Downhill

At the beginning of the 19th century advances in medicine lead to the establishment of specialist fever or isolation hospitals to treat patients with infectious diseases – such as scarlet fever and smallpox. Early examples in England being the Liverpool Fever Hospital (1801) and the London Fever Hospital (1802). Such hospitals became common in England when laws were enacted requiring the notification of infectious diseases by public health officials.

The Catherine-de-Barnes Isolation Hospital was established in 1907 near Solihull in the West Midlands. It stayed operational into the 1980s – becoming the last in service when the six other remaining NHS isolation hospitals were closed down in 1981. But then in 1987 even this hospital was closed, fumigated and sold for luxury housing. An event that ended almost 200 years of putting patients with highly-contagious diseases in dedicated hospitals.

Back then it was thought that we would never need isolation hospitals again. All the world health challenges were either under control or far away.

NHSNightingaleNWBut in 2020 all the rules changed – to the extent that this year has already seen the Covid worldwide toll reach some 38 million infections and around 1,086,000 known deaths – over 43,000 of them in the UK.

Early in the outbreak the UK government raced to establish seven temporary hospitals for Covid patients – with no expense spared. A move that could have re-established the isolation model that had worked in the past.

But no!

Instead the approach has been to free-up space in existing hospitals so that infectious Covid patients could share resources – and viruses – with those too sick to be included in the bed-freeing-up strategy. The results of which were death sentences for care home residents, a lack of resources for other serious conditions, cancellations of elective surgery and a reluctance within the general population to go anywhere near a hospital.

According to the Daily Telegraph a few weeks ago NHS chiefs had already been urged to assign all Covid patients to isolation hospitals in order to curb the spread of the virus, but the scientists involved were told that the move – though adopted in other countries and used effectively here before – was “too difficult” for the current NHS to achieve!

So we are now facing growing numbers of cases being handled in a repeat of the same approach that caused so many problems before. While we have new, purpose-built hospitals sitting empty and unused since June …

The front line NHS staff have been working very hard – but the ability of their leadership seems to have really gone downhill relative to other countries and those 19th century pioneers.

The phrase lions lead by donkeys comes to mind …