There was a feisty exchange on PoliticsLive this afternoon, with Labour’s Dawn Butler making some surprising attacks on the Government, and some less surprising ones. Fact Check Guido brings you the breakdown:
“The Government abandoned the testing in March”
It is true that community testing was bizarrely abandoned in March. Testing remained low at the behest of the now-mercifully abolished Public Health England. It was only ramped up again in late April. Jo Coburn was wrong to interrupt Dawn on her point…
“You cannot say you were following the science and then you abandon the science… testing was abandoned months ago.”
This is not true. As Guido covered back in July when Chris Whitty appeared before the Health Select Committee, it was the scientific advice to end Test and Trace. Something that was eventually overturned by political pressure…
“They were obsessed with centralisation instead of decentralisation.”
This is bang on. Also surprising to come from a Labour MP. As Guido has repeatedly written, when it comes to the app the NHS’s centralised model was a terrible mistake. They should have gone with the market-led Apple-Google model. It’s just surprising for the hardline socialist to back private companies over the Government…
“They knew they were focussing on a centralised system and what they needed was a decentralised system in order for it to work.”
This is true. As the Adam Smith Institute argued in April, “The early decision to centralise testing to a single Public Health England (PHE) laboratory has hampered the ability to increase testing in the UK.” The ASI paper outlined that countries that successfully tested well operated decentralised testing and embraced a mixture of public, non-government and private laboratories. The UK only embraced private testing labs – overriding Public Health England – months into the pandemic. Since it has done so it became the most tested country in Europe.
In May the Science and Technology Committee discovered that the 100,000 target was not “on the advice of PHE, NHS England or SAGE but was more of a personal initiative by the Secretary of State” Matt Hancock. Committee Chairman Greg Clarke concluded that it was the public bodies that bare the blunt of the blame:
“Had the public bodies responsible in this space themselves taken the initiative at the beginning of February, or even the beginning of March, rather than waiting until the Secretary of State imposed a target on 2 April, knowledge of the spread of the pandemic and decisions about the response to it may have made more options available to decision makers at earlier stages.”
So that’s all cleared up then. Dawn got it mostly right, however much of her anger is wrongly directed, instead needing to be directed to the quangos and scientists who gave Government much of the advice she rightly criticises. Who would have thought Dawn Butler would be on TV agreeing with Guido and free-market think tanks?