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Cowper’s Cut 203: Fifty Grays of shade

Cowper’s Cut 203: Fifty Grays of shade

Fifty Grays of shade
The redacted update of the Sue Gray report into the Government's 'Partygate' set of scandals finally emerged last Monday.

And ... it's quite a read.

Even this abbreviated remix (pending the Met Police investigation) is wholly clear-eyed that the attempted 'we were all working very hard in Government' excuses holds no water (nor Prosecco).

It is clear: "those challenges, however, also applied to key and frontline workers across the country who were working under equally, if not more, demanding conditions, often at risk to their own health.

"Some of the behaviour surrounding these gatherings is difficult to justify. At least some of the gatherings in question represent a serious failure to observe not just the high standards expected of those working at the heart of Government but also of the standards expected of the entire British population at the time".

These revelations' negative impact on public perceptions of the Government's competence were amplified by PM Boris Johnson's decision in the subsequent Commons debate to attack Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer with the following far-right trope: "this Leader of the Opposition, a former Director of Public Prosecutions—although he spent most of his time prosecuting journalists and failing to prosecute Jimmy Savile".

Classy. No matter that this is utterly untrue, it is a revealing little window into what passes for the PM's soul.

It was also against the expressed advice of his 14-year-longstanding senior policy advisor Munira Mirza, who promptly and publicly quit when he subsequently doubled-down on that Savile line.

The PM's move was likewise a bit far for Conservative MPs, some of whom publicly called for Mr Johnson to go, or declared they had put in letters of no confidence. Once the chair of the 1922 Committee receives 54 letters of no confidence in the Conservative leader, a contest is triggered.

By a lovely co-incidence, the phrase 'Prime Minister Boris Johnson is politically a dead man walking' has exactly 54 letters.

Paranoia and paralysis
Again: this matters to us, because the Government is in an enduring and high state of paranoia and paralysis.

This means that the normal business of politics is not getting done. Former No 10 head of legislative affairs Nikki Da Costa's Twitter thread is enlightening on these circumstances.

The NHS elective recovery plan is among the things stuck in the pipeline. Likewise, the public health grant allocations (these were revealed in response to a PQ from Green MP Caroline Lucas, and look like they are real-terms below inflation). Likewise, the workforce plans and Health Education England's training budgets.

Poll tacks: NHS truth and consequences
Because as the Ipsos MORI opinion polling work for the Health Foundation pointed out, people have started paying attention to the state of the NHS: and they have started to expect that it will deteriorate further.

Electorally, this will have consequences for a Government that is starting to smell exponentially more strongly of death.

Not only will it have them, it is already having them: new polling for Redfield and Wilton this week found Labour in the lead across the principal public policy areas for the first time in a very long time.

NHS England, management consultancy
In the meantime, if NHS England wants to get any plans published, it'll need to rebrand as a management consultancy.

No other conclusion can be drawn from the Department of Health But Social Care awarding a £21 million contract (£500,000 per ICS) on the ‘Elective Recovery Programme’ to seven private firms, as spotted by procurement expert Rob Knott. The usual suspects - McKinseys, Ernst & Young, KPMG etc are earmarked to share the cash for “system planning support” between now and March 31.

This is as interesting as it is ridiculous, and it is really ridiculous. It implies that the electoral, sorry, ‘elective’ recovery plan is to be drawn up by the main management consultancies. In two months. For £22 million.

This is staggering, really. Because if the ICS regions cannot draw up their own bits of the elective recovery plan, there’s literally no reason for them to exist.

It looks like either an expensive way to shift potential blame (among the many reasons I’m not a management consultant is that I wouldn’t have gone near those contracts with a barge pole), or a pre-grift by someone who wants a job in management consultancy once they leave their DHSC gig. Revolving doors gonna revolve.

Vaccines U-turn, and a War On Cancer
The Saj did his best to sell the egregious U-turn on mandatory staff vaccination for the NHS in the Commons.

It went as well as you might expect, which was not very.

The Saj also this week channeled his inner Richard Nixon by announcing a 'war on cancer'. (Yeah, I know.) The new UK aim is apparently to have the best cancer outcomes in Europe by 2030, which is less than the Long-Term Plan's ambition for the best in the world by 2028.

Ahem. It's worth reading HSJ's Ben Clover's comments about this.

Levelling up (or not)
The Government's levelling-up document also appeared this week.

Its references to health and social care were underwhelming. The lack of references to either primary care or public health were very telling.

The announcement of virtual wards for all hospitals might be democratic, but the governance and safety risks involved are not small.

It's also worth noting in the executive summary that the Government's offical plan for 50,000 more nurses has been downgraded to "an ambition".

The section on the public health grant is notably incoherent. If that is to be maintained, what cuts will follow elsewhere? More to the point, officially published figures imply that it is not being maintained, relative to current rates of inflation.

The National Audit Office warns that money spent on levelling up could well be wasted.

It's also worth reading the Institute for Fiscal Studies' work on this topic.

Getting the Bill
There was further debate in the Lords this week, but now the real political action awaits at the Report stage.

(One would expect so, anyway, were there to be a functioning Government. Ahem.)

Reinfections data
As Dr Duncan Robertson noted, this week saw the first publication on the Coronavirus data website which includes figures on re-infections.

Cronyvirus and coronamillions update
This week saw the relase of private messages between disgraced former MP and Randox lobbyist Owen Paterson and The People's Partridge Matt 'Alan' Hancock when the latter was still SOS, regarding Randox bids for business.

From what is seen here, there is no illegality. Paterson is open about his paid lobbying for Randox. However, someone who can logically only be Paterson (the name is redacted) wrote in a WhatsApp message from the 22 October 2020 to ask Hancock for help to “kill…once and for all” claims that “you only gave Randox the testing contract because I am a paid consultant.”

The contract was signed with Randox on 30 Marc 2020. Wwhat is telling, though, is that when this was renewed without competition on 30 September 2020, Chief Operating Officer for the Civil Service and Permanent Secretary for the Cabinet Office Alex Chisholm wrote that he was “disappointed” that a competitive tendering process had not been established in the meantime, and so directly renewing the Randox contract was the “only viable option”. Chisholm called for DHSC "to initiatie a competitive process in time for new contracts to be let in March 2021".

Another to watch.

The Sunday Times this wek followed up on previous reports about organisations connected to the Plymouth Bretheren religious sect winning various Covid19 contracts.

The paper also followed up on eleven companies that received £462 million from the government for contracts to supply PPE and Covid19 tests, despite being set up during the pandemic. These include one company "referred by Baroness Mone, the Tory peer, and ... fast-tracked through the “VIP lane” for politically-connected companies".

Getting wasted (financially)
The issue of wasted money has become a bit of a thing this week.

The latest DHSC annual accounts revealed a writedown of nearly £9 billion on PPE. This caused the National Audit Office to qualify its opinion on the accounts, which is clearly not usual.

Page 200 states that £8.7 billion out of £12 billion spent on PPE is regarded as being written off.

Ouch. And ooops.

That is A Lot Of Money.

We shoukd be fair and reasonable about some aspects of this figure: the depreciation since buying at the top of the market is simply a sunk cost of UK pandemic unpreparedness.

On top of this, the pantomime of the Nightingales has had another revealed consequence: that the beds bought for the non-used Nightingale theatre sets have had to be written off, to the tune of £13 million, according to Shaun Lintern's report for the Sunday Times.

HSJ notes that NHS England's annnual acccounts show that the NHS's spending on private providers rose by 27% during the pandemic.

Cronyvirus and coronamillions are the grift that keeps on grifting: it is clear that what Rob Knott spotted as another unconested £59.5 million LFT contract for Medpro Solutions lets us know how much the Government want to be effectove custodians of public money.

Kissing goodbye to NHS Kiss
Speaking of unusual uses of public money, this week we kissed goodbye to NHS Kiss, which went out in a self-publicised blaze of claiming credit for things that other orgainsations had largely done.

Simon Stevens' creation of NHS Kiss to distract tech-loving Alan has had interesting unforeseen consequences.

Recommended and required reading
The latest peer-reviewed work by Professor Michael West and colleagues shows that supportive and compassionate leadership are associated with lower work pressure on staff and more influence over decision.

The Institute For Government's annual 'Whitehall Monitor' is an interesting overview of events in Government.

Important work from the BMA about racism against ethnic minority doctors.

Thoughful Prospect article about the frame of refence for the coming public inquiry into the handling of Covid19

BBC Radio 4 will start broadcasting a new series on the NHS backlog this week, with Economist health policy editor Natasa Loder. It should be good.

Various companies got done by the Competitions and Markets Authority for price-fixing their anti-nausea cancer drug against the NHS.