Public sector is best long-term hope to beat viruses

Thursday, 22nd October 2020


‘Trust between the government and the people is evaporating’

THESE, admittedly, are excruciatingly difficult times.

No government can be expected to deal flawlessly with a pandemic of this nature. But the governing elite in Britain is stumbling into one pitfall after another. Trust between the government and the people is evaporating.

It has been obvious for some time that there is no magic bullet of a vaccine. Equally, it is clear Covid-19 is here for possibly many years. Even with more advanced treatment it will, at best, be a disease we can only hope to control – and live with.

The first step towards controlling Covid is an efficient track-and-trace system – and here the government is failing, and failing to the point where national life itself is threatened.

The government’s £12bn budget has been thrown away on companies which are linked in one way or another to the government – competitive tendering is something that is clearly alien to Boris Johnson.

Whether there is a “circuit breaker” regionally or a national lockdown there must first be a track-and-trace system. The “swab” test, now being used, takes time for analysis, and by its nature is not a quickfire process – unlike more modern devices used in the Far East.

In a recent CNN interview, the leading economist, Professor Mariana Mazzucato, of London University – a leading figure in the recently created Camden’s Commission for Economic Renewal, and clearly an economist who believes in the need for government investment in the public sector – pointed out that the successful control of Covid-19 by the quasi-Marxist governments of Kerala in India, and Vietnam had come about through long­-term public investment in public health over many years.

It wasn’t a “miracle”, she said but evidence of the importance of government investment. We need that approach in Britain.

Instead of throwing away billions on private companies that keep on failing to deliver an efficient tract-and-trace system, we should leave control methods to local public health bodies linked to a national government body.

This is what Sir Keir Starmer should be striving for. Circuit breakers are only short-term measures. How long would they last? A few weeks? And then, will we not be back again to square one?

The pandemic is being used as an opportunity by the government, whose ruling philosophy is to encourage private companies to make inroads into public companies, such as the NHS.

To cope with the Covid crisis critics of the government also need to see that it can be used as an opportunity to show that only by massive and regulated public investment throughout the economy – especially today in public health – will it be possible to control it.

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