The “Chumocracy” and Government mistakes: the Public is paying with their lives and jobs
On the same day as the Chancellor announced a pay freeze for the public sector, except for those on the lowest pay, the National Audit Office reports that the Government’s delay in responding to the pandemic resulted in a £10 billion overspend on PPE. The money saved by the public sector pay freeze is estimated to cover only half of this overspend; these are workers who have only just recently emerged from a decade of pay austerity and who have been risking their health and that of their families to keep the country running over the pandemic, yet they have been singled out to pay towards the cost of the Government’s mistakes.
The “divide and rule” tactic is yet again rolled out to set public and private sector workers at loggerheads while the focus is distracted from those with the broadest shoulders: individuals who can afford to pay; those who have made huge profits and expanded their businesses as a result of the pandemic( the food production and delivery industry and global companies such as Amazon) along with those who really have a moral duy to pay – large corporations and other businesses who have made huge sums out of Governement contracts.
There have now been a wealth of reports* in the press and by the BMA, whereby contracts involving enormous sums of money have been given to friends and acquaintances of ministers and MPs without the proper tendering processes being carried out, scrapping procurement rules and even bringing in fast tracking of associates over other firms. Often it has transpired that the contracts were also not fulfilled to adequate standards but still paid for by taxpayers. Whilst this lack of transparency has lowered public trust in democracy, it may have been forgiven at first in the light of the panic at the start of the Covid crisis. Where it cannot be forgiven is the failure to correct this now, 8 months on, so that the “chumocracy” or cronyism, which most might see as plain corruption, seems to have become the norm.
Most dangerous of all is that this approach meant that instead of giving responsibility for test and trace to experienced and trained public health officials working in their local areas, this was instead given to Serco and Dido Harding, both inexperienced in this field , centralising teams and bypassing NHS and university labs, thus holding up the procedures and therefore overall efficacy.
The fact that local health officials have now been included in this work since October demonstrates the Government’s implied acceptance that their initial approach in this instance was wrong, albeit shamefully late for the health of the country in fighting this second wave. However, no such admission has come with respect to the numerous PPE and other contracts now thought to have been illegally awarded and being challenged in court by The Good Law Project. The National Audit Office reports that in mid-March, the government had still believed its stockpiles would provide “most of the PPE needed to manage a Covid-19 pandemic” and so did not seek to buy any more, despite seeing the crisis unfold in Europe, in particular with warnings coming from Italy since January and despite the fact that the stockpiles were short of gowns and visors in the first place.
By April and May, with stocks threatening to run out, the Government began to panic as they found themselves at the back of the queue for PPE supplies as a result of their tardy response, by which time global prices for new supplies soared exorbitantly.As the BBC takes from the NAO report “Had the government been able to pay 2019 prices, it would have spent £2.5bn on PPE in 2020. In reality, it had spent £12.5bn, including hundreds of millions on “unsuitable” items that could not be used.”
Of more concern than the eye wateringly unnecessary cost incurred by the Government failures is the estimate of 100 deaths of inadequately protected health and care staff, as only one tenth of stock reached the frontline by July.
- £252 million to Ayanda Capital for masks subsequently deemed inadequate.
- Gabriel Gonzalez Andersson was paid £21 million of taxpayers’ money to act as a go between between UK Ministers and a Florida jewellery designer, Michael Saiger, who had just set up a company, Saiger LLC, to provide PPE, to the NHS. Despite no previous experience, three NHS contracts totalling £200 million were paid for by UK Ministers. Andersson was due to have been paid another £15 million if he and Mr Saiger had not entered into a dispute in court over the deal.
- Hanbury Capital, awarded a contract worth £640000, co-founded by Paul Stephenson, who worked alongside Cummings as the director of communications for the 2016 Vote Leave campaign. The other Hanbury founder, Ameet Gill, was David Cameron’s director of strategy in Downing Street.
- Public First – £1 million contract – links with Dominic Cummings and Michael Gove.
- Faculty – £3 million contract – links to associates of Dominic Cummings and worked on the Vote Leave campaign.
- Deloitte’s contracts for an undisclosed amount, covering labs and test sites, bypassing the NHS, and resulting in, for example, tests going missing or sent to the wrong person as well as a contract of £133 million to Random, a number of whose swabs in home testing kits were found not to be up to standard and withdrawn.
Will the Government give the public an assurance that there will be scrutiny of and accountability for the processes and procurements since March and going forward?