Matt Smith: An unenforcable travel ban. No NHS transmission data. Thirty thousand lost jobs. But where is the media scrutiny of Labour in Wales?

21 Oct

Matt Smith was the Parliamentary candidate for Cardiff West in the 2017 General Election and has stood for the Welsh Assembly.

Sir Thomas Hopkinson, co-founder of Cardiff University’s Centre for Journalism Studies, said the media is the “The most watchful sentry of the state”, for a “‘yes’ press is fatal to good government”.

With Covid-19 generating 115 pieces of Welsh legislation in six months and laws drafted within “a couple of hours”, Wales needs its fourth estate more than ever.

There are years in which nothing happened and days in which years happen. The “disappointing” decision by Mark Drakeford, the First Minister, to impose a ‘hard Covid border’ preventing travel into Wales from ‘high Covid areas’ of England, Scotland’s central belt and Northern Ireland’ is in effect one of the latter.

Police Federation Wales has called the ban “unenforceable”.  Simon Hart deplores the suggestion West Walians are “on the lookout for people who shouldn’t be in those areas” for stirring ‘division and confusion’.  The ban triggered a round of competitive restrictions with Nicola Sturgeon eying up a Wales-style cross border travel ban for Scotland.

Drakeford told the Welsh Government’s press conference last Friday that his cabinet was still discussing the best way forward. Later that afternoon, Bubble Wales published a leaked letter from the Confederation for Public Transport’s Welsh lead revealing ‘behind closed doors meetings’with officials about a “circuit breaker” beginning at 18:00hrs on Friday 23 October through to 00:01hrs on Monday 9 November.

Leaking continued into Saturday, with The Prydain Review reporting discussions with Welsh business leaders over closing clothing retail.  Paul Davies, the Conservative leader, criticised confusion “handling of this announcement is causing… especially to the most lonely in our society and businesses who are struggling to recover”.

Monday saw the most dramatic divergence between the UK nations, with the announcement of a two-week ‘firebreak’ lockdown from this coming Friday until 9th November, known as a ‘circuit breaker’ everywhere else. Drakeford’s “short, sharp, shock” to civil society will see pubs, restaurants, hotels and non-essential shops closing. Years Seven and Eight can return to school after the half term break. Gatherings outside of households are banned.

Avoiding this malady was why exiting lockdown was slower in Wales. Many wonder why the Welsh Government hasn’t gone for hyper-local ward by ward lockdowns. If the Welsh ministers can “firebreak” for 17 days, what is to stop them extending this? They have already declined to rule out a New Year “firebreak”.

The WHO Europe, the UK Government’s SAGE and Dr Roland Salmon, a former head of Public Health Wales, have cast doubt on the merits of this approach. Public Health Wales admits it doesn’t hold or received data on transmission rates – which begs the question: how is the pandemic response measured? And with claims of critical care being at capacity and ICU units reaching breaking point unraveling, many question the proportionality and rationale of the firebreak.

In a classic Cardiff Bay gaffe, Vaughan Gething, the Health Minister, let on that firms may be eligible for UK Government support during lockdown. Welsh Government finances are better at locking down than helping businesses stay open. The Welsh firebreak seems like a lockdown made in Westminster.

Drakeford will now blame Downing Street for an economic crisis he has exacerbated. Wielding the visible hand of the state comes easily to the lockdown left, which believes that the gentleman in Cathays Park knows better. The First Minister also wants to consolidate the institutions of Welsh Government though “assertive devolution” – posturing to be different to Downing Street for the sake of it.

‘Devolve and forget’ renders devolved affairs into a province of the Welsh media. Yet BBC Wales is in the process of cutting 60 roles, while uncertainty hangs over dozens of posts at Media Wales, the publisher of the Western MailWales on Sunday and South Wales Echo heritage titles and WalesOnline.

‘Team Wales’ groupthink makes it harder to question to many Welsh establishment sacred cows. Yet this is no time for shrinking violets. At one point, nearly all media in Wales reported Bubble Wales’ leaky government special except BBC Wales. Welsh Conservative demands for a Senedd recall were overlooked. BBC Wales’ Politics Wales starmshow focused on Starmer and Gething, with only five minutes for Paul Davies.

Andrew RT Davies, the Shadow Health Minister, has called out the “down-right breathtaking arrogance” of Welsh ministers bypassing the Senedd. Welsh Labour MSs seem more interested in tweeting congratulations to Jacinda Ardern than scrutinising the liberticidal decisions of their own administration.

Daran Hill , a veteran Cardiff Bay Watcher, observed that Siambr-dodging ministers prefer government by briefing as it boosts the profiles and reach of hitherto unrecognisable politicians. Welsh ministers get soft-soaped while UK Government ministers face the full rigors of the national media.

They lack the openness or transparency to provide infection statistics on a ward-by-ward basis that are available in England. Only local authority figures are thought to be ‘sensibly used’, treating the public like children when information is important to sustain confidence  in rules.

Weak scrutiny lowers the bar. An anomaly in Welsh coronavirus law allows people from countries with high infection rates to visit low coronavirus parts of Wales (including via the Welsh Government-owned Cardiff Airport) while UK visitors are banned. Welsh students studying in England will be unable to return home and potentially miss Christmas.

Yet residents living near porous borders are not the playthings of politicians. Nor are livelihoods. The New Statesman has suggested ‘restrictions will only work if they are self-policed’. If the exhausted majority can’t afford to follow rules, compliance and civil obedience will become another casualty of the lockdown.

The hard man of devolution should savour the plaudits of the Cardiff condescendi and the nationalist comentariate. Drakeford now owns a legacy including 30,000 jobs lost in the first lockdown and the losses of those who will fall short before November.

A lacuna of scrutiny makes for bad policy. With power-gaming devocrats in control of the administrative state, governing by leak and pushing dodgy dossiers, Wales needs its ‘watchful sentries’ more than ever.

Matt Smith: An unenforcable travel ban. No NHS transmission data. Thirty thousand lost jobs. But where is the media scrutiny of Labour in Wales?

21 Oct

Matt Smith was the Parliamentary candidate for Cardiff West in the 2017 General Election and has stood for the Welsh Assembly.

Sir Thomas Hopkinson, co-founder of Cardiff University’s Centre for Journalism Studies, said the media is the “The most watchful sentry of the state”, for a “‘yes’ press is fatal to good government”.

With Covid-19 generating 115 pieces of Welsh legislation in six months and laws drafted within “a couple of hours”, Wales needs its fourth estate more than ever.

There are years in which nothing happened and days in which years happen. The “disappointing” decision by Mark Drakeford, the First Minister, to impose a ‘hard Covid border’ preventing travel into Wales from ‘high Covid areas’ of England, Scotland’s central belt and Northern Ireland’ is in effect one of the latter.

Police Federation Wales has called the ban “unenforceable”.  Simon Hart deplores the suggestion West Walians are “on the lookout for people who shouldn’t be in those areas” for stirring ‘division and confusion’.  The ban triggered a round of competitive restrictions with Nicola Sturgeon eying up a Wales-style cross border travel ban for Scotland.

Drakeford told the Welsh Government’s press conference last Friday that his cabinet was still discussing the best way forward. Later that afternoon, Bubble Wales published a leaked letter from the Confederation for Public Transport’s Welsh lead revealing ‘behind closed doors meetings’with officials about a “circuit breaker” beginning at 18:00hrs on Friday 23 October through to 00:01hrs on Monday 9 November.

Leaking continued into Saturday, with The Prydain Review reporting discussions with Welsh business leaders over closing clothing retail.  Paul Davies, the Conservative leader, criticised confusion “handling of this announcement is causing… especially to the most lonely in our society and businesses who are struggling to recover”.

Monday saw the most dramatic divergence between the UK nations, with the announcement of a two-week ‘firebreak’ lockdown from this coming Friday until 9th November, known as a ‘circuit breaker’ everywhere else. Drakeford’s “short, sharp, shock” to civil society will see pubs, restaurants, hotels and non-essential shops closing. Years Seven and Eight can return to school after the half term break. Gatherings outside of households are banned.

Avoiding this malady was why exiting lockdown was slower in Wales. Many wonder why the Welsh Government hasn’t gone for hyper-local ward by ward lockdowns. If the Welsh ministers can “firebreak” for 17 days, what is to stop them extending this? They have already declined to rule out a New Year “firebreak”.

The WHO Europe, the UK Government’s SAGE and Dr Roland Salmon, a former head of Public Health Wales, have cast doubt on the merits of this approach. Public Health Wales admits it doesn’t hold or received data on transmission rates – which begs the question: how is the pandemic response measured? And with claims of critical care being at capacity and ICU units reaching breaking point unraveling, many question the proportionality and rationale of the firebreak.

In a classic Cardiff Bay gaffe, Vaughan Gething, the Health Minister, let on that firms may be eligible for UK Government support during lockdown. Welsh Government finances are better at locking down than helping businesses stay open. The Welsh firebreak seems like a lockdown made in Westminster.

Drakeford will now blame Downing Street for an economic crisis he has exacerbated. Wielding the visible hand of the state comes easily to the lockdown left, which believes that the gentleman in Cathays Park knows better. The First Minister also wants to consolidate the institutions of Welsh Government though “assertive devolution” – posturing to be different to Downing Street for the sake of it.

‘Devolve and forget’ renders devolved affairs into a province of the Welsh media. Yet BBC Wales is in the process of cutting 60 roles, while uncertainty hangs over dozens of posts at Media Wales, the publisher of the Western MailWales on Sunday and South Wales Echo heritage titles and WalesOnline.

‘Team Wales’ groupthink makes it harder to question to many Welsh establishment sacred cows. Yet this is no time for shrinking violets. At one point, nearly all media in Wales reported Bubble Wales’ leaky government special except BBC Wales. Welsh Conservative demands for a Senedd recall were overlooked. BBC Wales’ Politics Wales starmshow focused on Starmer and Gething, with only five minutes for Paul Davies.

Andrew RT Davies, the Shadow Health Minister, has called out the “down-right breathtaking arrogance” of Welsh ministers bypassing the Senedd. Welsh Labour MSs seem more interested in tweeting congratulations to Jacinda Ardern than scrutinising the liberticidal decisions of their own administration.

Daran Hill , a veteran Cardiff Bay Watcher, observed that Siambr-dodging ministers prefer government by briefing as it boosts the profiles and reach of hitherto unrecognisable politicians. Welsh ministers get soft-soaped while UK Government ministers face the full rigors of the national media.

They lack the openness or transparency to provide infection statistics on a ward-by-ward basis that are available in England. Only local authority figures are thought to be ‘sensibly used’, treating the public like children when information is important to sustain confidence  in rules.

Weak scrutiny lowers the bar. An anomaly in Welsh coronavirus law allows people from countries with high infection rates to visit low coronavirus parts of Wales (including via the Welsh Government-owned Cardiff Airport) while UK visitors are banned. Welsh students studying in England will be unable to return home and potentially miss Christmas.

Yet residents living near porous borders are not the playthings of politicians. Nor are livelihoods. The New Statesman has suggested ‘restrictions will only work if they are self-policed’. If the exhausted majority can’t afford to follow rules, compliance and civil obedience will become another casualty of the lockdown.

The hard man of devolution should savour the plaudits of the Cardiff condescendi and the nationalist comentariate. Drakeford now owns a legacy including 30,000 jobs lost in the first lockdown and the losses of those who will fall short before November.

A lacuna of scrutiny makes for bad policy. With power-gaming devocrats in control of the administrative state, governing by leak and pushing dodgy dossiers, Wales needs its ‘watchful sentries’ more than ever.

Matt Smith: An unenforcable travel ban. No NHS transmission data. Thirty thousand lost jobs. But where is the media scrutiny of Labour in Wales?

21 Oct

Matt Smith was the Parliamentary candidate for Cardiff West in the 2017 General Election and has stood for the Welsh Assembly.

Sir Thomas Hopkinson, co-founder of Cardiff University’s Centre for Journalism Studies, said the media is the “The most watchful sentry of the state”, for a “‘yes’ press is fatal to good government”.

With Covid-19 generating 115 pieces of Welsh legislation in six months and laws drafted within “a couple of hours”, Wales needs its fourth estate more than ever.

There are years in which nothing happened and days in which years happen. The “disappointing” decision by Mark Drakeford, the First Minister, to impose a ‘hard Covid border’ preventing travel into Wales from ‘high Covid areas’ of England, Scotland’s central belt and Northern Ireland’ is in effect one of the latter.

Police Federation Wales has called the ban “unenforceable”.  Simon Hart deplores the suggestion West Walians are “on the lookout for people who shouldn’t be in those areas” for stirring ‘division and confusion’.  The ban triggered a round of competitive restrictions with Nicola Sturgeon eying up a Wales-style cross border travel ban for Scotland.

Drakeford told the Welsh Government’s press conference last Friday that his cabinet was still discussing the best way forward. Later that afternoon, Bubble Wales published a leaked letter from the Confederation for Public Transport’s Welsh lead revealing ‘behind closed doors meetings’with officials about a “circuit breaker” beginning at 18:00hrs on Friday 23 October through to 00:01hrs on Monday 9 November.

Leaking continued into Saturday, with The Prydain Review reporting discussions with Welsh business leaders over closing clothing retail.  Paul Davies, the Conservative leader, criticised confusion “handling of this announcement is causing… especially to the most lonely in our society and businesses who are struggling to recover”.

Monday saw the most dramatic divergence between the UK nations, with the announcement of a two-week ‘firebreak’ lockdown from this coming Friday until 9th November, known as a ‘circuit breaker’ everywhere else. Drakeford’s “short, sharp, shock” to civil society will see pubs, restaurants, hotels and non-essential shops closing. Years Seven and Eight can return to school after the half term break. Gatherings outside of households are banned.

Avoiding this malady was why exiting lockdown was slower in Wales. Many wonder why the Welsh Government hasn’t gone for hyper-local ward by ward lockdowns. If the Welsh ministers can “firebreak” for 17 days, what is to stop them extending this? They have already declined to rule out a New Year “firebreak”.

The WHO Europe, the UK Government’s SAGE and Dr Roland Salmon, a former head of Public Health Wales, have cast doubt on the merits of this approach. Public Health Wales admits it doesn’t hold or received data on transmission rates – which begs the question: how is the pandemic response measured? And with claims of critical care being at capacity and ICU units reaching breaking point unraveling, many question the proportionality and rationale of the firebreak.

In a classic Cardiff Bay gaffe, Vaughan Gething, the Health Minister, let on that firms may be eligible for UK Government support during lockdown. Welsh Government finances are better at locking down than helping businesses stay open. The Welsh firebreak seems like a lockdown made in Westminster.

Drakeford will now blame Downing Street for an economic crisis he has exacerbated. Wielding the visible hand of the state comes easily to the lockdown left, which believes that the gentleman in Cathays Park knows better. The First Minister also wants to consolidate the institutions of Welsh Government though “assertive devolution” – posturing to be different to Downing Street for the sake of it.

‘Devolve and forget’ renders devolved affairs into a province of the Welsh media. Yet BBC Wales is in the process of cutting 60 roles, while uncertainty hangs over dozens of posts at Media Wales, the publisher of the Western MailWales on Sunday and South Wales Echo heritage titles and WalesOnline.

‘Team Wales’ groupthink makes it harder to question to many Welsh establishment sacred cows. Yet this is no time for shrinking violets. At one point, nearly all media in Wales reported Bubble Wales’ leaky government special except BBC Wales. Welsh Conservative demands for a Senedd recall were overlooked. BBC Wales’ Politics Wales starmshow focused on Starmer and Gething, with only five minutes for Paul Davies.

Andrew RT Davies, the Shadow Health Minister, has called out the “down-right breathtaking arrogance” of Welsh ministers bypassing the Senedd. Welsh Labour MSs seem more interested in tweeting congratulations to Jacinda Ardern than scrutinising the liberticidal decisions of their own administration.

Daran Hill , a veteran Cardiff Bay Watcher, observed that Siambr-dodging ministers prefer government by briefing as it boosts the profiles and reach of hitherto unrecognisable politicians. Welsh ministers get soft-soaped while UK Government ministers face the full rigors of the national media.

They lack the openness or transparency to provide infection statistics on a ward-by-ward basis that are available in England. Only local authority figures are thought to be ‘sensibly used’, treating the public like children when information is important to sustain confidence  in rules.

Weak scrutiny lowers the bar. An anomaly in Welsh coronavirus law allows people from countries with high infection rates to visit low coronavirus parts of Wales (including via the Welsh Government-owned Cardiff Airport) while UK visitors are banned. Welsh students studying in England will be unable to return home and potentially miss Christmas.

Yet residents living near porous borders are not the playthings of politicians. Nor are livelihoods. The New Statesman has suggested ‘restrictions will only work if they are self-policed’. If the exhausted majority can’t afford to follow rules, compliance and civil obedience will become another casualty of the lockdown.

The hard man of devolution should savour the plaudits of the Cardiff condescendi and the nationalist comentariate. Drakeford now owns a legacy including 30,000 jobs lost in the first lockdown and the losses of those who will fall short before November.

A lacuna of scrutiny makes for bad policy. With power-gaming devocrats in control of the administrative state, governing by leak and pushing dodgy dossiers, Wales needs its ‘watchful sentries’ more than ever.

Radical: Gender ideology has penetrated our institutions – and now it’s the census that’s under threat

20 Oct

Rebecca Lowe is the former director of FREER, and a former assistant editor of ConservativeHome. She is co-founder of Radical.  She and Victoria Hewson, her co-founder, alternate authorship of this column on trans, sex and gender issues.

If you thought self-ID was off the table, now the Gender Recognition Act battle has been won, you’d better think again. Gender ideology has penetrated our institutions so deeply that, even without self-identification becoming a matter of law, the insidious idea that one’s sex is a solely matter of personal demand is seeping into policy and practice, almost unnoticed. Yet the damaging effects of this will be far-reaching, and one of the most worrying examples regards the case of the upcoming census. 

Regular readers will know we believe that adults should be free to present themselves however they want (as long as this doesn’t harm others), and that such behaviour shouldn’t prevent anyone from being afforded equal respect. But this doesn’t equate to believing that the way someone presents themselves determines their biological sex — or that anyone should be mandated into accepting that to be the case!

Indeed, the activists pressing for such mandates endanger many people. We’ve charted the risks faced by vulnerable children, pressured into taking life-changing experimental drugs; the risks natal women face when forced to shared their single-sex spaces; and the risks we all face from attacks on societal commitment to truth.

National data collection is also under threat. And without trustworthy societal data, horrible problems go unnoticed, policy solutions go untested, and nobody is held to account. Sadly, one field that’s been heavily occupied by gender-identity activists is national statistics — in particular, they’ve targeted the censuses that are due to take place, soon.

The UK authorities in charge of censuses are the ONS in England and Wales, National Records of Scotland (NRS), and the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA). For the upcoming English, Welsh, and Northern Irish censuses in March 2021, and the Scottish census that’s been postponed to March 2022, they’ve confirmed that the wording of the compulsory-to-answer “sex question” will continue to offer only the standard answers “male” and “female”. Controversially, however, accompanying guidance will advise respondents to answer based on their self-declared gender identity.

This has raised serious concerns among social scientists and statisticians. In a letter to The Sunday Times, more than 80 academics noted that the guidance “will effectively transform the sex question into one about gender identity”, and highlighted their concern that “this will undermine data reliability on a key demographic variable”.

In an excellent Woman’s Place webinar on Sunday, one panellist summed up the situation: “How has this happened when everyone who knows about it, disagrees with it?”. Informed by the webinar, and our wider reading, including an important new paper by Dr Jane Clare Jones, here are some answers:

1) UCL’s Professor Alice Sullivan describes how the census has “collected data on sex since its inception in 1801. As a fundamental demographic variable, robust data on the number of male and female citizens is of vital importance to the planning and delivery of public services. Sex is a protected characteristic under the 2010 Equality Act, therefore data on sex is clearly necessary for equalities monitoring”.

Yet, the aforementioned guidance will conflate the provable scientific concept of sex with the contested subjective concept of gender identity. This will make it unclear what’s being measured (violating the most basic principle of questionnaire design), and render the resulting data unreliable.

Now, it could be argued that the number of respondents who’ll answer the question with anything other than their biological sex will be very low, and that, therefore, this is relatively unimportant. But, aside from the principle of the matter, this neglects how most research using census data drills down deep, comparing findings relating to different variables and subgroups in different ways, making accuracy essential at all levels.

Of course the census covers sensitive matters, but regarding none of its other questions is it indicated that the respondent is not expected to give a truthful answer, but that they can instead choose to provide a response that makes them feel better, or that they wish were true.

UK census authorities have an obligation to maintain public trust in national statistical data. This poor guidance puts them in danger of losing their long-held ability to monitor differences between the sexes, and provide foundations for evidence-based policy.  

2) Until recently, the census “sex question” was thought self-explanatory. In 2011, however, guidance was provided advising transsexual and transgender people to respond based on their self-declared gender identity. This wasn’t subject to consultation, but, according to the ONS, was done “at the request of the LGBT community”. This doesn’t mean, however, that self-identified sex should be accepted as a necessary feature of the census. Professor Sullivan describes how: 

“it is not clear how data quality was affected [by the 2011 guidance], but it is likely that few respondents consulted the guidance. The shift to a “digital-first” census in 2021 means that any proposed guidance will be much more visible and accessible, compared to the 2011 census (which was predominantly paper based, with separate online guidance). It is also likely the number of respondents who might seek to answer the sex question in terms of their gender identity will be higher in 2021. Taken together, these factors introduce the potential for significant discontinuity with the 2011 and previous censuses”.   

Moreover, the 2021 census (in England and Wales, and Scotland) is in further danger of undermining the pursuit of good data collection, with the introduction of a voluntary question specifically pertaining to gender identity. This means respondents will first be asked their sex (but told to answer on the basis of their gender identity), and then asked about their gender identity (by reference to sex!).

Given increasing interest in gender identity, especially among young people, and the lack of reliable data on the number of UK trans people, there’s value to this question. However, that’s only if gender identity can be understood separately from sex: conflating these terms helps nobody, not least trans people, who we’re regularly informed are at risk of missing out on screening for medical conditions relating to their natal sex. Yet, gender-identity activists continue to press this dangerous and confusing conflation. 

3) The conflation of biological sex and gender identity — an astonishing failure of the census authorities — is but one example of the powerful institutional capture achieved by activists. Analysis by MBM tracks how the NSR was in regular and close correspondence with Stonewall. And much of the ONS’s output on the topic of the sex question betrays, through the use of tell-tale words and phrases, an uncritical absorption of post-modernist gender ideology.

4) It cannot be overstated how important the census is, not only to good public policy formation, but to good data collection and analysis, in general. A panellist on the Woman’s Place webinar referred to the census as “the mothership”. And anyone who’s ever done any research on any policy matter will be familiar with the use of census data; its methodological approach is, for everyone from academics to pollsters, a lodestar for survey design and so much more. Risking its standards, therefore, is tantamount to destroying a foundation post of our society.

5) The good news, however, is that it’s not too late — yet — to save the census! If you care about public policy, and believe that national statistics should be protected from gender ideology, then you’d better complain now. You’ve still got a small amount of time before the upcoming censuses to write to one or all of the following: the ONSNRSNISRA, your local MP, and the equalities minister, Liz Truss.

Simon Fell: Why there should be a permanent cut to business rates for retail

19 Oct

Simon Fell is MP for Barrow & Furness.

As Benjamin Franklin famously said, “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Our business rates regime assures both: as a tax it is one of the biggest contributors to the death of high streets up and down the UK.

I see the consequences of this first hand in my own constituency of Barrow & Furness. Where once the high street was the beating heart of Barrow, the life is seeping away. Dalton Road, the high street in Barrow, was where local residents met up to shop, gossip and laugh. My constituency surgeries are full of residents and business owners telling me that something must be done.

And we must do everything possible to turn the tide. Covid-19 has hit the high street hard. But even before the onset of the pandemic, retailers – large and small – were struggling to cope with the ever increasing rise in business rates.

It is a regressive tax which is not fit for purpose. Since 1990, business rates receipts have increased from £8.8 billion to £27.3 billion in 2017/18, an increase of 210 per cent compared with a 75 per cent increase in inflation. The UK now has the highest property taxes in Europe, nearly double the rate of the next nearest country, and business rates is a large reason why.

It is a tax which hits hard-working business owners, it is a tax which is a barrier to investment, and it is a tax which costs jobs.

It imposes a double whammy on the high street too: we haemorrhage ‘anchor’ stores like M&S and Topshop which makes it harder to attract shoppers to our independent stores. Those independents are the plucky heroes of Barrow’s street scene and they thrive against all odds. We can’t allow them to pulled into the same downwards spiral.

This tax also hits the north hardest. New research today by WPI Strategy categorically proves that the business rates burden is highest in northern towns such as Barrow and Leigh. Using store data from the thousands of Tesco stores across England and Wales, the paper shows 75 per cent of constituencies in the top 10 per cent of rates burden are in the North and Midlands, compared to just 26 per cent in London and the South. This is because the tax rate does not mirror economic performance, so for areas facing economic challenges the burden is much higher.

The research shows that shops in the top 50 constituencies most burdened by rates have four times the business rates burden of those in the bottom 50. If the top 50 constituencies faced the same burden as those in the bottom 50, they would save £50 million a year.

It is even more important for constituencies such as mine that the Government does all it can to ensure retailers can survive and thrive. Retail makes up 25 per cent more of the job market in the North, Midlands and Wales than it does in London

During Coronavirus, retailers such as the big grocers, took on tens of thousands more staff to help feed the nation. The sector is also a stepping stone into the world of work for many people, offering apprenticeships for youngsters up and down the UK.

But retail provides more than simply an economic boon to northern towns. Shops play an important psychological and social role within neighbourhoods. They are often the only touch points for some of the more vulnerable members of our community.

Encouragingly, the Chancellor recognises the value of retail to our social fabric and economic prospects. At the start of the pandemic he announced that retailers as well as businesses in the hospitality and leisure sectors in England will not have to pay business rates for a year.

This was an extremely welcome move. There is further work going on here too: Town Deals and Future High Street Funds offer the chance to renew the high street and town centres like mine. But that renewal must be backed.

When the rates holiday comes to an end next year, we must continue to relieve the pressure on retailers. That is why I’m calling on the Government to introduce a permanent cut to business rates for retail. A 20 per cent reduction in the overall level of rates would make a huge difference to shop owners in towns like Barrow, Bury or Bolton. It would enable them to retain jobs, keep the doors open, and reduce the number of boarded up stores on our high streets.

Of all the low-hanging fruit available to the Government’s levelling up agenda, reducing business rates would be an easy win with an immediate positive impact.

Simon Fell: Why there should be a permanent cut to business rates for retail

19 Oct

Simon Fell is MP for Barrow & Furness.

As Benjamin Franklin famously said, “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Our business rates regime assures both: as a tax it is one of the biggest contributors to the death of high streets up and down the UK.

I see the consequences of this first hand in my own constituency of Barrow & Furness. Where once the high street was the beating heart of Barrow, the life is seeping away. Dalton Road, the high street in Barrow, was where local residents met up to shop, gossip and laugh. My constituency surgeries are full of residents and business owners telling me that something must be done.

And we must do everything possible to turn the tide. Covid-19 has hit the high street hard. But even before the onset of the pandemic, retailers – large and small – were struggling to cope with the ever increasing rise in business rates.

It is a regressive tax which is not fit for purpose. Since 1990, business rates receipts have increased from £8.8 billion to £27.3 billion in 2017/18, an increase of 210 per cent compared with a 75 per cent increase in inflation. The UK now has the highest property taxes in Europe, nearly double the rate of the next nearest country, and business rates is a large reason why.

It is a tax which hits hard-working business owners, it is a tax which is a barrier to investment, and it is a tax which costs jobs.

It imposes a double whammy on the high street too: we haemorrhage ‘anchor’ stores like M&S and Topshop which makes it harder to attract shoppers to our independent stores. Those independents are the plucky heroes of Barrow’s street scene and they thrive against all odds. We can’t allow them to pulled into the same downwards spiral.

This tax also hits the north hardest. New research today by WPI Strategy categorically proves that the business rates burden is highest in northern towns such as Barrow and Leigh. Using store data from the thousands of Tesco stores across England and Wales, the paper shows 75 per cent of constituencies in the top 10 per cent of rates burden are in the North and Midlands, compared to just 26 per cent in London and the South. This is because the tax rate does not mirror economic performance, so for areas facing economic challenges the burden is much higher.

The research shows that shops in the top 50 constituencies most burdened by rates have four times the business rates burden of those in the bottom 50. If the top 50 constituencies faced the same burden as those in the bottom 50, they would save £50 million a year.

It is even more important for constituencies such as mine that the Government does all it can to ensure retailers can survive and thrive. Retail makes up 25 per cent more of the job market in the North, Midlands and Wales than it does in London

During Coronavirus, retailers such as the big grocers, took on tens of thousands more staff to help feed the nation. The sector is also a stepping stone into the world of work for many people, offering apprenticeships for youngsters up and down the UK.

But retail provides more than simply an economic boon to northern towns. Shops play an important psychological and social role within neighbourhoods. They are often the only touch points for some of the more vulnerable members of our community.

Encouragingly, the Chancellor recognises the value of retail to our social fabric and economic prospects. At the start of the pandemic he announced that retailers as well as businesses in the hospitality and leisure sectors in England will not have to pay business rates for a year.

This was an extremely welcome move. There is further work going on here too: Town Deals and Future High Street Funds offer the chance to renew the high street and town centres like mine. But that renewal must be backed.

When the rates holiday comes to an end next year, we must continue to relieve the pressure on retailers. That is why I’m calling on the Government to introduce a permanent cut to business rates for retail. A 20 per cent reduction in the overall level of rates would make a huge difference to shop owners in towns like Barrow, Bury or Bolton. It would enable them to retain jobs, keep the doors open, and reduce the number of boarded up stores on our high streets.

Of all the low-hanging fruit available to the Government’s levelling up agenda, reducing business rates would be an easy win with an immediate positive impact.

Iain Dale: The number of people who tell me that they would ignore the rules of any new national lockdown is troubling

16 Oct

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and the For the Many podcast with Jacqui Smith.

The number of people who tell me they would ignore the rules of any new national lockdown is troubling indeed. Despite YouGov reporting that 68 per cent of the nation support such an initiative, were to be in any way successful it would need the full co-operation of the British people, and I now wonder whether that would be forthcoming.

Dominic Cummings’ trip to Barnard Castle back in the spring did an enormous amount of damage. It allowed people to say: “well, if it’s one rule for them and another for us, that’s it. I’ve done my bit’.

However ludicrous the logic might appear, it’s a view many people take. The story of Matt Hancock drinking in a bar after 10pm didn’t help either, no matter what the truth of it was.

It was a clever move by Keir Starmer to break with the Government and side with the scientists who want a circuit breaker lockdown. Clever politically – though perhaps not from any other standpoint.

For as Boris Johnson pointed out at PMQs, SAGE recognised, in the minutes of the meeting in September, that although it recommended a so-called ‘circuit-breaker’ lockdown, it also that recognised the Prime Minister has to weigh this up with other considerations, not least economic and behavioural.

On the face of it, it seems more logical to adopt a regional and local approach to lockdowns. That’s the one that the Opposition leader wants to adopt on test and trace – yet otherwise he’s set on a national lockdown, even for areas with comparatively few cases.

No Labour spokesperson I have interviewed has been able to tell me how to explain to a business in North Norfolk why it should close, when in the whole of the area there are only 19 cases as I write.

Sometimes, we are led to believe that we’re the only country going through this. We hear very little in the media about what’s happening elsewhere in the world, apart from the United States.

Virtually every other country in Europe is introducing new restrictions and experiencing high rates of new infections – yes, even the sainted Germany.

As I write, France has hit 26,000 new infections. Emmanuel Macron has announced a curfew from 9pm to 6am in nine cities, including Paris. He has admitted that many of the country’s biggest hospitals are on the verge of being overwhelmed. Its test and trace system has been even more shambolic than ours, and has been largely abandoned. Where in the British media do you hear about that (apart from on my LBC show, natch)?

It’s as if every failing in the UK system is leapt upon as a further sign of both Johnson’s incompetence and deliberate spite towards a population that he clearly wants to die. It’s preposterous, of course. No one denies that there have been massive failings in all parts of the response to Coronavirus, but why is it that the failings in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland aren’t highlighted in the same way?

The figures in Scotland in many areas are worse than in England yet, because she does a press conference every day, Nicola Sturgeon is given a largely free pass by a supine Scottish media.

Holding a press conference in which you repeat yourself each day, but talk a good game, is no substitute for effective policy. And in most areas, Scottish government policy towards Coronavirus has been just as ineffective as that applied in other parts of the UK.

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On my Cross Question programme on Wednesday night, Richard Burgon’s answer to every question on Covid was to trot out a mantra of blaming Boris Johnson for every single failing.

Well, it’s a point of view, but to then rely on New Zealand as proof of the Prime Minister’s incompetence strikes one as incongruous to say the very least. He kept saying that New Zealand has done everything right, and if only we had followed its lead we’d have been OK.

Sometimes, you have to shake your head at the ignorance of some people. How is it possible to compare a country with a population density of 16 per square kilometre with another country which a density of 255 per square kilometre? How is it possible to compare a country whose biggest city’s population is 1.6 million, with one whose capital city has a population of nine million?

I could go on. The challenges of fighting a virus in a country like the UK is very different to that of New Zealand. Having said that, no one can deny the New Zealand government has done a brilliant job, and I am sure there are things we could learn from their experience.

Similarly, we can learn from other European countries, and you’d hope that there’s a lot of learning going on in the Department of Health. Sometimes, one has to wonder, though.

Take test and trace. Three months ago, I interviewed the Mayor of Blackburn. Because the National test and trace scheme was failing to trace people in Blackburn and the R rate was increasingly at a worrying pace, the Mayor and his local council decided to use its own public health people to set up a local test and trace system.

Contrary to some media outlets reported at the time, this was not set up in opposition to the Dido Harding system, it was designed to complement it. If the national system failed to trace someone in 48 hours, details were handed over to the local public health department. It worked like a dream.

‘This is the way forward,’ I thought to myself after the interview. And I assumed that arrangement this would be replicated across the country.

Not a bit of it. Only now is it beginning to happen – with the Department of Health, PHE and National Test and Trace finally working out that more local input is needed. Why has it taken so long for the penny to drop? Ask me another.

What we are seeing in so many areas is a failure of the machinery of government. This will be one of main areas for a public inquiry to delve into.

How can it be right for example, for Boston Consulting to be paid £7,340 per day for each of its consultants who have been hired to advise on test and trace? I do hope there’s a performance element to the contract…if so, they ought to be handing the money back

Obviously, a private company has to make a profit, but £7,340 per day equates to an annual rate of £1.8 million per consultant. There’s taking the piss, and taking the piss. And this qualifies on both counts. Whichever civil servant or minister signed this off has some very serious questions to answer.

And don’t get me started on the EU and the trade talks. I’d better leave that until next week, I think. If only for my own sanity and your blood pressure.

James Frayne: Coastal towns – next for the Conservatives after the Red Wall seats. And essential for a shore-to-shore majority.

13 Oct

James Frayne is Director of Public First and author of Meet the People, a guide to moving public opinion.

The Conservatives risk taking their 80 seat majority for granted; doubly so, with their domination of provincial England and Wales. There’s a sense that Labour has been devastated in their own backyard – with no way back in the near-term.

But England and Wales aren’t in the bag and the Conservatives’ hold over the working class is precarious. The pivot to it is in name only; it can be made real, but only with serious action.

Jeremy Corbyn was a clown, but Keir Starmer isn’t. The English working class came to despise Corbyn, but don’t despise Starmer and never will. He’s an entirely familiar English politician: a bit awkward and dull; a bit professional posh.

But so what? That’s most people in politics. Working class people would vote for him without hesitation. He’s basically competent; he’s not afraid to say he’s patriotic; he stands against the excesses of the lunatic fringe in his Parliamentary Party; he looks the part.

The Conservatives urgently need to narrow Starmer’s path to No 10. How should they go about this?

This column has long focused on the need to appeal to voters in the the Midlands and North. This has been the main battleground for the last two or three elections; but there are signs Conservative ambition should be extended on a large scale geographically.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that English and Welsh coastal areas should become a priority in the same way the Midlands and North have been. In this way, the Conservatives should seek to establish a mainstream majority from coast to coast.

Over the last couple of years I’ve been conducting more and more research in coastal areas – mostly in the form of focus groups, but via quantitative research too – and have been increasingly struck by the cultural, economic and, ultimately, political similarities between them in different areas.

It’s also become clear that cities like, say, Portsmouth, have a lot in common with, say, Derby. And places like, say, Great Yarmouth have a lot in common with, say, Rochdale. The smaller towns are strikingly similar.

New quantitative research that Public First has conducted as part of our work for the UK Major Ports Group – the representative body for the country’s largest port operators – confirms me in this view. It should be perfectly possible for the Conservatives to create a message that resonates equally for the working class in coastal and inland areas.

Indeed, this should be a strategic priority for the Conservatives for the rest of this Parliament. You can read the full tables of the coastal poll here and the accompanying England and Wales nationally representative poll here.

(I should say at this point that UKMPG is entirely apolitical; this reflects my reading of a poll I’ve done for them; Labour-leaning colleagues are writing their own analyses from a Labour perspective).

Coastal towns have their own particular challenges, of course, and residents favour policies specific to coastal areas. For example, coastal residents favour awarding coastal areas “special category” status in the same way that some rural areas have been awarded something similar; they also favour improving transport links between coastal areas and the rest of the country.

The Government will need to address these particular issues. But the more you look at the data and the more you listen to coastal town residents in focus groups, the more similarities there appear to be people in with less affluent towns in the English and Welsh heartlands.

Most obviously, there are huge concerns about the economic and social decline of their towns. In coastal areas, as in less affluent Northern and Midlands towns, not only do very many people think their local areas have got worse, but they’re also pessimistic for the future.  They are particularly concerned about the state of their local high streets and how small businesses have suffered (made worse, of course, by the Covid-19 emergency and the downturn that’s followed).

As in the Midlands and North, coastal town residents are desperate for policies that focus on regeneration. Many believe their children would be better off moving away to pursue better opportunities elsewhere. In towns on the coast and inland, you hear this mix of local civic pride with a belief that things are getting worse all the time (especially in the West Midlands).

For voters in coastal towns and in the heartlands, the Conservatives’ manifesto focus on improving life in provincial Britain was the right one; it obviously chimed in towns across the country.

So politically and culturally speaking, there are reasons why the Conservatives should consider coastal voters to be potential long-term Conservatives. Coastal town residents are more likely than the national average to be eurosceptic, and seem more conventionally patriotic than the average.

But, as we’ve seen in Labour’s former working class areas, they’re hardly classically Conservative. For example, they’re keen on raising taxes on the highest earners and on increasing benefit provision (the latter, likely a reflection of the downturn).

They also associate the Conservatives, as many do, with being primarily for “the rich”. In short, coastal town residents are superficially Conservative, but many are now peeling off to the “don’t know” line when asked about their voting intention, which is only a step away from taking a good look at Labour.

More worryingly, when we probed voters’ values, coastal residents, as well as those across the rest of England and Wales, said the values they held most dear were family, fairness, hard work and decency; but they were much more likely to associate Labour with these values than the Conservatives.

Over the next several months, I will be returning regularly to this theme: the need to create a mainstream English and Welsh majority from coast to coast. The research I’ve been doing is an interesting first step; it requires more analysis and more thought.

However, my strong sense is this:

  • Politicians are wrong to consider coastal areas as being radically different from the rest of the country, and indeed too different to help through conventional politics.
  • While coastal areas require some specific attention, their problems are similar to those in the Midlands and North etc.
  • The heart of the policy response should focus on civic regeneration, small business growth and new technologies;
  • As with the rest of the country, there are major differences between the cities and the towns on the coast.  And, bringing it all together –
  • The Conservatives should seek to create a unified offer which ties together mainstream England and Wales.

With Brexit finally coming to a conclusion one way or the other, and with new trade deals emerging, it’s likely that British port towns and cities are going to start receiving greater political attention.

We’re going to suddenly remember that we’re an island which demands an industrial strategy to match a new trade strategy. As this all takes place, the Conservatives should begin to prioritise the voters of these coastal areas in the way they’ve prioritised those in the Midlands and North.

If test and trace is to succeed, a centralised approach won’t work

9 Oct

Despite being initially hailed as the main way to manage Covid-19, test and trace has proven something of a nightmare for the Government. From technological flaws in its contact tracing app, to u-turns on whether to use Apple and Google’s technology, the papers have been filled with negative stories about progress in this area.

Perhaps it could be said that this week has provided the biggest headache so far for ministers, beginning with the news that 16,000 people who tested positive for Covid-19 between September 25 and October 2 disappeared from official records in England.

This was reportedly due to Public Health England (PHE) using an outdated version of Microsoft Excel to process data. The spreadsheet could only handle a limited amount of information, hence why so many contacts were missed.

The result is that there are potentially tens of thousands of infectious people who have not been contacted; indeed, NHS Test and Trace apparently had to track down an estimated 40,000 Covid-19 cases.

Matters were made worse by the fact that Ring Central, NHS Test and Trace’s call system, allegedly failed to work too – locking workers out of their profiles for prolonged periods.

As if that wasn’t troublesome enough, yesterday it was shown that NHS Test and Trace contact rate figures have reached their lowest rate yet, with 68.6 per cent of close contacts of individuals who’d tested positive for Covid-19 in England reached in the week ending September 30 (the system needs to reach 80 per cent of contacts in order to be considered viable). 

Furthermore, it was shown that fewer than one in four people testing positive for Covid-19 receive their results in 24 hours – a far cry from Boris Johnson’s initial pledge that, by the end of June, results of all in-person tests would be back within that timeframe.

With all of these events, the Government can look forward to even harsher criticisms from Keir Starmer and the opposition on testing, which has repeatedly been called a “shambles”.

No doubt many members of the public, too, are wondering how many more of these problems are to come in test and trace; whether the strategy will ever work, and what it means for their livelihoods in the meantime. So what exactly has gone wrong?

Several hypotheses have been put forward to explain the repeated weaknesses in the contact tracing system.

The first, straightforward one is that the Government simply did not plan enough for a pandemic. Whereas countries like South Korea were able to deploy pre-existing infrastructure for contact tracing, the Government started from scratch – creating NHS Test and Trace, which has had to “learn” on the job.

Even more significantly, NHS Test and Trace highlights an instinct of the Government that has run throughout this crisis; its tendency to create large-scale, centralised solutions to managing Covid-19, rather than utilising existing systems (one of the main examples being its initial desire to build a centralised contact tracing app – instead of going with Apple and Google’s technology).

Many will remember Dido Harding announcing of NHS Test and Trace at its inception: “This is a brand new service which has been launched at incredible speed and scale.” But it is this speed and scale that might explain why there have been so many issues – as rushing something out of this complexity in a pandemic represents huge logistical challenges.

It could be said that the Government has missed a trick by not tapping into local teams and networks to carry out processes such as contact tracing. This is why Germany, Italy and much of Asia have got ahead, using large-scale local investment and resources to do contact tracing.

And indeed, when England started to switch to using local contact tracers, it made a massive difference to success rates. In the week to September 30, for example, these teams were able to reach 97.1 per cent of contacts, much higher than NHS Test and Trace’s rate of 68.6 per cent (done via online messaging or phone calls).

The added advantage of local teams is that they can help ensure compliance in those contacted, some of whom may want to avoid call centres – wary that a number beginning 0300 could mean a tracing team is getting in touch.

It’s not only that devolving responsibilities can enhance the tracing process, but decentralisation can boost testing too – which smaller labs in universities and the private sector initially offered to help the Government with. Instead, it has mostly relied upon PHE labs and NHS trusts to carry out this work.

While the Government should be praised for how quickly it managed to scale up testing, there have been problems with laboratories being too slow to process results (allegedly as a result of over-reliance on post-graduate science students to analyse lab results, who were only there over summer), and incompatibilities between systems – both of which might have been addressed with a more decentralised approach, and flexibility about which labs were used.

Robert Buckland, Secretary of State for Justice, since said that the Government would open 100 more test centres, including a “mega lab” on the way to enhance capacity.

But maybe this brings us back to the initial point – that the Government’s quest for new systems, as opposed to tapping into local and/ or existing solutions, might ultimately hold it back in accelerating testing. Instead of devolving powers, the Government’s instinct has always been to take more responsibility.

Will there be a change to the direction the Government is going in? The shift to using more contact tracing teams is certainly promising – and should be built upon, but given the amount of money, energy and investment that has gone into Test and Trace – along with the Government’s recent plan to merge PHE and NHS Test and Trace into the new “National Institute for Health Protection” – centralisation seems one area it is reticent to u-turn on.

James Frayne: Covid-10. Seven action points for Ministers – as pressure rises on the Government

29 Sep

James Frayne is Director of Public First and author of Meet the People, a guide to moving public opinion.

The Government always knew that keeping public opinion onside during the early days of a second spike would be hard.

These are times when public finances are under pressure, lockdown fatigue is setting in (particularly amongst the young), but when dangers to public health are still high. Ministers face criticism from all corners, whatever decisions it takes. Some of the popular media’s websites channel criticism towards the Government from entirely different directions on the same day. So what should Ministers do to keep public opinion onside?

I never write about clients’ work, unless expressly agreed and declared. My thoughts here are entirely derived from my own recent reading of the public mood. In any case, not only has it been a relative age since I ran groups for Government, but my agency has decided not to pursue opportunities for future work with the Cabinet Office. As those that understand qualitative research know, the work, while interesting, is ultimately extremely low-margin, all-consuming and a distraction from commercial work.

1. Forget the polls.

First things first – the Government needs to junk almost all the polling. Public opinion is in a state of total unreality and has been for many months. All the polls show the public back strict lockdown measures – just as they always have.

But voters are on morphine supplied by Ministers in the form of vast furlough payments and emergency support to businesses, tenants and the rest. As such, the public has no sense at all of the real state of the economy – and therefore no sense whatever of the trade-offs the Government is making between public health and public finances.

People will always favour tighter restrictions when they think there’s little direct risk to them. As it stands, few think their taxes will rise, their personal debt will increase or that their jobs are at risk. For most people, risk lies with others.

Ministers have created a vicious cycle of opinion: they’re artificially pumping up support for tight restrictions, then reading the polls telling them the public want tight restrictions, then further extending support. If the Government is going to help the country ultimately get back to normal, it’s going to have to break this cycle. Stop reading the polls for a bit.

2. Start being honest about risk and public choice.

While the nature of the conversation will necessarily be brutal and uncomfortable, the Government must start talking about the balanced risks of ongoing restrictions. It has to: the chances of the cavalry arriving with millions of vaccine shots before the money runs out look slim. It seems likely, at some point, that we’ll have to find a way to live with risk.

If Ministers don’t prepare the ground now, they’ll find the public in a state of hostile shock when all of a sudden the Government removes financial support. As part of this process, they’ve also got to start encouraging the public to start managing their own risk.

So far, only Rishi Sunak has been prepared to deliver, in flashes, this message. He should be unleashed to start telling the public some fundamental truths about the need to protect the economy, and in turn our public services and living standards. The public aren’t daft and they’ll come to accept this. But it’s a message that is going to take time to filter through; it needs to be delivered now.

3. Don’t misunderstand the character of the English.

There’s only one value the English hold dearer than fairness, and that’s family. While they want ludicrous violations of lockdown rules punished in the name of fairness, they’ll also do whatever it takes to protect their families and they believe utterly in the sanctity of the private home.

The Government has been dicing with political death in recent times. They’ve appeared to encourage snitching on other families, which will come back to haunt them in calmer times; they’ve left themselves open to putting, say, attending demos ahead of visiting relatives; and they will have made lifetime enemies of middle class parents of students in recent weeks.

Ministers should remember who the English are: law-abiding; fair-minded; (nuclear) family-focused; and ultimately liberal. Pushing them into civil disobedience to protect their families will end catastrophically badly. (And, whatever you do, don’t mess with the English Christmas).

4. Promote politicians, downgrade scientists.

PR Advice 101 is always the same: wheel out the independent experts that the public trust, and play down the role of politicians. And so we’ve seen nothing but Government scientists for months.

There are two problems with this approach. Firstly, it has implied that the scientists are ultimately in control of the situation and that there are simple, empirical decisions which can and must be made. This isn’t true, and has given the public a false sense of security.

Secondly, most of the scientists are poor communicators. The media love the idea of the boring, trusted scientist that the public all love. But this isn’t reality. The scientists aren’t professional communicators and putting them in positions of public influence in this way is a mistake. The Government needs to show some balls and downgrade the scientists’ role as communicators, and take responsibility for what are essentially political decisions.

5. Use Rishi Sunak more, use businesspeople more.

Strategically speaking, communicating on the economy is now the most important comms challenge – because of the need to prepare people for balanced risk. People know as much as they ever will about the health risks and the need to socially distance, wash hands etc.

So there’s little gain now in having the scientists keep talking about the health risks. They won’t help keep the public onside if a million people join the dole queues. Instead, the Government needs to promote business voices who can both explain the rationale for Government action, and who can explain risk and reward in ways others can’t.

Ultimately, since we’re all going to need to get back out there and manage risk at some point, we need businesspeople to explain in necessarily lurid terms the dangers of not doing so. We need to hear even more from Rishi Sunak and ideally a panel of businesspeople to amplify his warnings.

6. Drop the technical language.

This is such an obvious point, I’m reluctant to make it. However, one of the problems that has arisen from the public role of the scientists is the casual use of pointlessly technical language that ordinary people can’t possibly understand.

The use of the “R rate” in public communications is merely the most obvious example. Of course, when used enough, they take on the meaning they’re supposed to have. But as part of the shift to promote political voices, there’s got to be an onus on using the simplest language.

7. Internationalise the response.

One of the weird things about the global pandemic is that each country seems to be grappling with its  own specific outbreak; it’s as if we all have our own national pandemics. It will be far easier to keep the public onside if politicians are seen to be actively talking and learning from one another.

And, no, this isn’t a Brexit thing; this seems true around the world. The public will be more open to change if they can see we are cooperating with the other countries and learning lessons from them.

Over the summer, all we heard was the possibility of tit-for-tat quarantine restrictions imposed on different countries’ tourists, as if this was all a zero sum game; this wasn’t given the attention it warranted: it was a real low point in the crisis. The Government would do well to work publicly with other governments at this point.