COVID AND CASUAL CORRUPTION

 

 

Look, I’m not planning to start a punch up here with folks in my own demographic.  After all, when you have a lifetime of disputation under your belt, you know how to fight dirty.

But here’s the thing – I’m just not persuaded about the age driven priority list for vaccination. This is not about letting elderly folks die off prematurely so that young folks can go a-raving. It’s about taking a beady eyed look at some non age related risk factors.

Here am I tip tapping away on a keyboard in mid Argyll. Frankly, m’dears, my social diary would give you snow blindness.  I doubt the bloke from the supermarket dropping my online messages at the door later this same day comes under the heading of superspreader.

It’s true that I am about to embark on the Burns Supper season. But there will be no mask-free shenanigans since, like everything else, everyone’s suppers are online.  (Trust me, honest sonsie faces like mine were not necessarily designed for the kind of daily zoomery of our lives right now. Though the upside is only having to iron the front of your blouse.)

Meanwhile, down the road in my local village, are mums and dads with no choice about going out to work. No choice about using the bus, or ferry and train. And then coming home after a day in the big, wide, virus laden world to their weans and whichever parent or carer has had the unalloyed joy of home schooling.

These folks are at considerably greater risk than someone with the privilege of working from a home where the only person under ten is the dog.  I will take the jab the instant it’s offered. I’d be daft not to. Yet a part of me will know it’s my years on this earth which shove me up the queue.

There are special cases, of course there are.  Many care homes up and down the land have been ravaged by the virus.  But not because the residents have been nicking down  the pub when such things were possible. By definition they are living in an involuntary bubble.

They are there because, for a variety of reasons, they are unable to sustain independent existence. Their additional vulnerability stems from the fact that covid can be  brought into the home by an outside source, or, as earlier in the pandemic, by an insufficiently careful hospital discharge.

The latter problem has been recognised and addressed. The former makes it imperative that care home staff have continual access to testing and themselves are vaccinated as soon as feasible. We have seen the carnage previously caused by the practice of shoring up staff shortages in privately run homes by sending replacements from highly infected areas.

That’s partly what has fuelled the campaign to nationalise an aspect of social care which is frequently in private hands .  It’s certainly true that at certain periods all kinds of inexperienced (and very high profile)  people bought into care homes; not out of noticeable empathy for their charges, but because in those days care homes became reliable cash cows with tax breaks on the side.

Yet de-coupling them right now would be far from simple, regardless of how attractive it sounds. Both the Scottish government and local authorities are under huge financial pressures from just about every commercial sector in town. Plus the people who most urgently need properly constructed well staffed care are the people least likely to be able to chuck any money of their own into the pot.

There has been genuine heartache  in the care home sector where family visiting has been so curtailed. And throwing sufficient PPE at this dilemma certainly is a priority. Yet, you know, I watch TV images of extremely  elderly people being wheeled out of hospitals after being first in the vaccination queue and I honestly wonder if someone with a half a lifetime of parenthood ahead might not have been the needier.

There is a fairly brutal calculation made by some of the agencies which determine what new medicines are prescribed, most especially the pricey ones. They call it Quality Adjusted Life Years.  In lay speak; how long you can expect to enjoy a reasonably fulfilled life. Maybe, just maybe, it’s a moment to think along similarly dispassionate lines.

Elsewhere on planet pandemic, the PM has called in the troops, as he did the other week when half of Kent became a de facto lorry park. This can be looked on as a positive development. For starters we can be reasonably sure the Brigadier that he wheeled out to give him cover at the latest Downing Street “briefing” is not a major Tory party donor . 

The foregoing quotation marks are essential since anything Johnson promises at these set pieces - where the two constants are a bad hair day and twin Union flags - will be badged as  “world beating” or  “fantastic” or both. When actually what his audiences long for are initiatives that are merely competent and efficiently delivered.  We can leave fantastic to his barber.

It is greatly to be hoped, when we are out the other end of this health catastrophe, that the reasons for the havoc that has been wrought, and the spiralling death toll that has been achieved are forensically examined. Billions have been squandered to serve the Conservative government’s unshakeable belief in the inherent efficiency of the private sector, even when, time after time, that faith has proved disastrously misplaced.

Periodically I have examined the nature of the highly lucrative contracts billowing out from the Johnson administration, with little obvious scrutiny or oversight and no suggestion of competitive tendering. Now you could argue, quite legitimately, that when you are in crisis mode there is neither time nor appetite for unnecessary bureaucracy.  And that alibi might hold water but for the fact that the beneficiaries of these deals have ranged from a company specialising in pest control – I kid you not – and others instantly set up to get in play with no track record and a hundred quid of liquidity.

Even more scandalous has been the number of companies picking up these contracts who either have direct connections to government ministers, or fast track access because of their previous generosity to the Conservative Party.  That is corruption plain and simple. Meanwhile, drumming their fingers in the waiting room, have been all manner of companies who DO have the requisite experience and track records, but whose phones just never ring with the man from the ministry.

There are things the Scottish Government can do to mitigate this deplorable state of affairs, and things they can’t.  They can ramp up the vaccination team numbers, but they can’t hurry up the supplies coming over the border. They can plead with people not to cross borders but they can’t facilitate  wholesale New Zealand style travel bans. The kind that let you get through the pandemic with minimum loss of life, and restore normality in the shortest time.

They can empathise with people desperate for financial back up to keep themselves or their businesses afloat, but they can’t do much about a chancellor who packages old pledges as new generosity. They can wring their hands over the disaster enfolding the Scottish shellfish industry as it sinks under a mountain of Brexit knitted red tape whilst its precious cargo rots. But they can’t give the electorate back the European deals they had and for which almost two thirds of Scotland voted. Not yet awhile.

Oddly, people still feel able to ask me why it is I’m so passionate about Scotland shaping its own future and finally getting a government it votes for . I’d say let me count the ways. But I’ve long since run out of fingers.

 

First published in the Sunday National January 2021