There can now be no doubt that our system for running the country is the wrong oneby John Denham / May 22, 2020 / Leave a comment
If the world has rediscovered the importance of good national government, it is a measure of England’s governance that the nation heads the dismal European league of excess deaths. Only governments can underwrite the economy, organise health and social care and protect the public. England has discovered the need for government only to find itself with a state incapable of effective action.
Ministers’ confident British exceptionalism—we always do things better here—has been exposed. But their hubris sits on a system of government that has been steadily failing for years.
A better state might have saved ministers (and us) from their errors. But something has been going wrong for a long time. Over decades, the state steadily shifted power from the local to the centre, as councils lost resources and clout. Power moved from the public to the private, effectively privatising what we now call key workers. And power flowed from the accountable (local authority schools) to the unaccountable (academy chains). Power congregates at the centre; responsibility and accountability do not.
Every failing response to Covid-19 shows the same features. Small numbers of people take all the decisions. The information on which they act is often kept secret (and often misrepresented in public). The central state won’t properly engage with those have to implement decisions and prefers to bypass them altogether. The statutory Local Resilience Forums, created as critical coordinating bodies during civil emergencies, have been marginalised, isolated and unable to plan effectively. Local public health officials who already track and trace infectious diseases have, until this week, been ignored.
When the central state lacks capacity, it buys it from private companies rather than working with councils and others who could do a better job. The consequences are severe. Outsourcing firm Serco was handed a role in recruiting contact tracers, then promptly shared the private details of job applicants by accident. Chaotic scenes were reported at the government’s privatised PPE distribution centre, which was actually sold to new owners as hospitals ran out of kit. Other contractors ignored UK companies offering supplies. Testing was held back by civil servants’ centralising instincts and then handed to Deloitte, leaving 61,000 GPs unable to refer their own patients.The central NHS volunteer programme left most of those who signed up unused, failing to match them with local organisations needing support.
Meanwhile the police, and Conservative county…