The UK Tory “Covid Chumocracy”

Photograph Source: Gerry Lynch – CC BY-SA 4.0

Media headlines in the UK have been dominated by the Tory government’s endless bungles and mishaps in its handling of the Covid pandemic.

The death toll of 50,000 (and rising), accompanied by a veritable cull of residents in care homes, to a promised “world beating” test and trace system that is still not running (even though third-world countries got similar systems to work months ago), to mixed messages on the lockdown protocols, to U-turns occurring on a weekly basis, it’s all there.

Here is a month-by-month capsule designation of the government’s confused and confusing flummery:

June – Do your civic duty and go to the pub while somehow maintaining social distancing inside.

July – “I want bustle” (BoJo Johnson), so go back to the office and help out coffee shops by buying a latte on the way.

August – Go to a pizza joint, and the government will give you a coupon to get it at half-price.

September – We’re on the cusp of a Second Wave, so this is your last chance to stop spreading the virus, or we may have to bring in the army to maintain the new rules on social distancing.

Largely airbrushed by the mainstream media during all of this has been a massive boondoggle as the Tories channelled public funds earmarked for dealing with Covid-19 into the troughs of Tory supporters and donors, often in the form of no-bid contracts.

In many cases these contracts were given to private corporations with no experience of producing protective equipment (PPE) or kits for testing.

Baroness Dido Harding, a failed businesswoman and wife of a Tory MP wanting the abolition of the NHS, failed to get the test and trace system running successfully, but was still picked to run BoJo’s new public health system.

The latest test and trace app, superintend by Baroness Dido, is still showing 1-in-3 false positives.

In addition, schools with hundreds of students and their teachers were given a ridiculous 10 emergency Covid testing kits at the start of term for those who could not get to test centres.

The National Education Union chief Mary Bousted said testing a teacher may avoid mixing classes or struggling to get in supply staff for teachers who test positive for Covid. Bousted said school attendance in just a few weeks since reopening is down from 97% to 88% as pupils struggle to find scarce ways to get tested.

The shameless baroness defended her incompetence by blaming the public for not trusting her botched system.

According to public health experts, Covid test confusion and disorder is due to the Government “sidelining” NHS labs in favour of failing private firms (who happen to be Tory donors in nearly every case).

Researchers are saying targets could have been met had the full capability of NHS pathology units been used.

Instead the Health Secretary Matt Hancock sidelined these NHS units possessing real proficiency, and pumped millions into firms without previous expertise and untrained employees.

Unite union, representing 7,000 experts in immunology, biochemistry, microbiology and virology, said NHS labs have been marginalized and under-utilized during the pandemic.

A survey of its members found only 38% of NHS labs have been working at full capacity and it is clear that the Tories have been sidelining long-established NHS facilities.

Unite specialists estimate each of the UK’s 105 NHS district general hospital path labs could have handled 500-1000 tests a day. Larger hospitals could have processed up to three times as many.

As a result, the government’s testing regime is now in chaos, with figures showing three quarters of a million Covid test requests are going unanswered every day.

Several reports also indicate that in many cases, those who manage to book a test are required to travel hundreds of miles and wait for hours to get their tests.

The national track and trace system in England is largely managed by outsourcing predator Serco and call-centre company Sitel. Serco’s CEO is Rupert Soames, the old Etonian grandson of Winston Churchill. It and other corporate beneficiaries such as Deloitte, KPMG and G4S already have long-established relationships with the Tory party.

These failing companies were initially contracted to run the system up to August 23rd. Since then, their contracts have been extended, miserable performance notwithstanding, up to the potential sum of £528m/$575m.

Last week protesters dumped a pile of horse shit outside Serco’s headquarters, waving a banner proclaiming “Serco Test and Trace Stinks!”, and warning that Serco’s “incompetence” is costing lives.

There are other examples:

+ Tens of thousands of people infected with the virus were incorrectly given the all-clear by England’s Lighthouse laboratories, a High Court trial will be told this week.

+ £130m/$142m to a Conservative donor for testing kits that turned out to be unsafe

+ £150m/$164m for facemasks that couldn’t be used by NHS staff

+ over £2.6bn/$2.9bn was handed over in so-called job retention bonuses, to businesses that were going to bring staff back to work anyway, on a plethora of outsourced contracts that failed to deliver. This is possibly the most outrageous scam of all: the business given the no-bid contract simply says that managers X or Y were being enticed to leave by rival companies, and lo and behold, had to be given outrageous job-retention bonuses, paid out of the public purse.

+ Meller Designs, a firm co-owned by a Conservative Party donor, has been given more than £350m/$382m in no-bid contracts.

+ A dormant firm, TAEG Energy, was handed contracts worth more than £52m/$57m, and a 44-day-old company granted a £122m/$133m contract.

So far the Tory government has forked-out £364m/$397m on protective overalls, of which a mere 432,000 have been delivered to health and social care services. This amounts to £840/$916 per garment, so they were either haute-couture creations of the Yves St Laurent fashion house (or something similar), or an insider well-connected with the Conservatives has found yet another gravy train.

A Survation survey, shared with HuffPost UK, shows 74% want local public health teams, rather than Serco and Sitel, to run NHS Test and Trace. The poll revealed that a mere 14% want the crucially important service to be run by a private company.

However, the government is about to bolster testing with more private companies, such as the piratical Jeff Bezos’s Amazon and the German DHL. It will also hire as managers hundreds of staff from consultancy firms, presumably with little or no public health or medical experience.

The Tory handling of the pandemic has been vitiated throughout by no-bid contracts for cronies; the lack of basic inspection procedures (e.g. requesting a vendor of face masks to submit prototypes for inspection would have preempted a situation in which hundreds of thousands of face masks were unusable because their ear straps turned out to be defective); inadequate consultation with hospitals and care homes; indecision and mixed messaging about social distancing; over-promising on targets and not-delivering; corruption, fraud, and criminality; and a fundamental lack of competence at all levels of the UK’s political (though not its underfunded public-health and medical) infrastructure.

While the Tories are foisting a “scamdemic” on ordinary Brits, no one has been put on trial, despite all of the above.

The UK is of course a monarchy, though many in the media say that to all intents and purposes it is now a banana republic after a decade of Tory misrule.

Kenneth Surin teaches at Duke University, North Carolina.  He lives in Blacksburg, Virginia.