Category Archives: Public Policy

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 …

Another Broken Promise?

Here we are at another deadline in the EU relationship saga. And it is sobering to reflect that there are eight year-olds who have spent their entire lives with Brexit on the national agenda.

MunsterManToday’s question is will the UK government, that is the Prime Minister, walk away from the fraught trade negotiations by midnight tonight – as promised? Or will they allow the EU politicians to impose their timetable instead?

By tomorrow we should find out.

But there is a feeling that this is a critical tipping point. Anything other than the UK landlord calling last orders tonight will show everyone – on both sides – just how weak and ineffective the UK leadership has become …

Update 19-Oct-2020
The cynics win again. Bluff and bluster but the deadline is not enforced and so the talks continue …

It’ll All End In Tiers?

It’s autumn and already the supermarket shelves are being stacked with Christmas specials while the British media tries to generate the false impression that there are shortages of essentials due to panic buying. For this Grandad mince pies are high on the essentials list – but with the raw materials to make them already stockpiled there are no concerns on that front.

Man38However taking a somewhat broader view there are plenty of things that could go badly wrong for Britain. First the infamous, but non-existent, trade deal with the European Union is needed by both sides – but not at any price. And those that expected the EU to take a pragmatic and fair approach have been rudely shaken out of their dreams. We have to hope that the politicians can stop playing their political games and come to a sensible solution. But it’s not something that has happened very often, or very quickly, in the past – and the EU has a worse than average track record; mainly because there are so many different countries trying to come to a common consensus. What suits Spain does not suit Germany, etc, etc.

With just three months remaining before the end of transition and just a few weeks before the next final deadline any businesses relying on importing or exporting across the Channel must be crying out for definite border policies and procedures. The optimistic view is that exports from the EU to UK will be VAT free and cheaper but the pessimistic view is that something as simple as buying an item on Amazon will involve extra processes that increase the final price significantly. Who knows? Certainly not Joe Public. And most probably not Joe Public’s member of parliament either.

Then a close second comes Covid-19 – or rather the various attempts by our leaders to solve a health pandemic by issuing random rules, laws and slogans. Today’s news that even if a vaccine is found and approved by early 2021 it will take all of next year to treat most people. So we face starting 2021 with both Covid lock-downs and massive hold-ups at all the ports. But our government has things under control, it says, and is looking to make things clearer by putting Covid restrictions into three tiers …

Some distance behind these two we have threats of political rebellions in Scotland and Ireland – plus even within Scotland – and an increasingly unstable situation within British royalty. With the head of state being in a high-risk age group, the heir apparent being past retirement age, the Duke of York being tangled up in US litigation and Harry, formerly known as Prince, having become a minister of the Woke-ist religion there is a minefield of potential disasters not far ahead for the House of Windsor.

Interesting times …

Equinoxe

The day counter on the Daily Mail web site is showing 183 days so that’s half of the year spent living under constantly changing restrictions. From the Spring Equinox to the Autumn one the whole country has been subjected to an unprecedented torrent of instructions about our daily lives from on high. Even the Queen has been severely restricted by advice and laws which supposedly protect us, our economy and our health service from the terrors of Covid-19 infection.

Man37But today’s announcement to parliament by our Prime Minister (and Covid victim), Boris Johnson, set out not just more rules to be followed but also the prospect that they will be in place for a further six months.

Quite what will have improved the infection rate by then is not at all clear. One assumption is that there will be an effective, economic and safe preventative vaccination by then. But that’s a big ask when the common cold corona virus still has no vaccine after decades of attempts. Plus there are reports that natural antibodies to protect us from Covid-19 only have a limited life – so calling into doubt the value of any mass immunisation programme even if a vaccine is found.

The current picture suggests that nothing will actually remove the Covid-19 virus from the planet by then. Government measures can restrict its spread but the virus is like some invisible flood water that will break into anywhere that is unguarded. And even New Zealand’s success cannot guard every one of its citizens all of the time.

But it is also clear that after six more months of restrictions the national economy will be in a terrible state and those bountiful government handouts for everything from overseas aid to winter fuel payments; from high-speed railways to child benefits; from arts funding to state pensions will be facing the axe.

Messers Whitty and Vallance may have been painting an extreme scenario with 49,000 cases per day by 13-Oct-2020 but it seems more likely that by 2021 our high streets will be ghost towns and their civil service pension funds will be facing collapse or at least a major devaluation. Then they may have to concede that Sweden has played the hand dealt to it by fate much better …