Mistakes from the past must become lessons for the future
No figure, no matter how round or large, could adequately describe the profound loss felt by millions of people across the country today. Every nation on Earth has had to battle Covid-19, yet our outcomes have consistently been among the very worst. Why?
The answer matters because this pandemic will not be the last. We cannot wait for the inevitable inquiry and anyway, once adjourned, the ministers responsible will quickly be telling us we simply have to move on.Good governments learn from their mistakes, bad ones are doomed to repeat them.
Our leaders have not shown much aptitude for learning. Here is our checklist for the future:
1. From the start, decision-making at the centre was chaotic. There have been improvements, particularly since the departure of Dominic Cummings, but fast and thorough decision-making is ultimately the responsibility of the Prime Minister, who never seemed able to make hard choices and wants to be liked. He cannot swerve hard decisions anymore.
2. We need a consistent plan on borders. If the Government wants to introduce a hotel quarantine, but only for so-called hot-spot countries, it must explain why such a measure was not in place before and how it would work when potentially vaccine-resistant Covid variants can emerge anywhere.
3. We need to bridge, once and for all, the divide that exists between the NHS and social care. It is not enough to add “social care” to the health department’s name. We need integration, which was sorely missing and contributed to so much grief during the first wave of infections.
Indeed, our health system needs greater capacity more generally. The NHS creaks during the average mild winter, where in 2018/19 overnight general and acute bed occupancy regularly exceeded 95 per cent, well above what is considered safe.
4. We need proper planning for schools. Exams cannot be cancelled, with the Government having no plan for what to replace them with. The frustration is ministers had months to get this right. It is unfair for teachers, parents and most of all students, asked to work either online or in the classroom without a clear goal.
5. Then there is Brexit. Only one country on Earth attempted to simultaneously fight a pandemic and extricate itself from its largest and most important trading bloc. It exhausted bandwidth, both in the Civil Service and in Number 10, when all focus should have been on our health crisis.
Ultimately, Britain will not be able to fully recover from the lingering effects of Covid-19 unless we address the burdens placed on our economy as a result of the new trade deal. Businesses are groaning under the weight of paperwork and discovering there is no such thing as a tariff-free deal. They need tailored support and investment in digital infrastructure to soften the sharpest trade friction edges.
Having already lost much of its derivatives market to New York, the City of London, now without EU passporting rights, needs to find innovative ways to maintain its world-leading position.
The Government deserves credit for its early deal with AstraZeneca. Yet we cannot pause for self-congratulation.
Learning the lessons of 2020 means raising our heads above the horizon and anticipating future problems, such as vaccine supply or how to counter new variants. This time, let’s plan ahead.