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I recently gave evidence to the Public Services Committee in the House of Lords on how the coronavirus pandemic will affect the future role, priorities and shape of public services.
A number of key themes and issues were raised during the session that will be important in the months and years ahead. Many of these reflected the findings from our report Ending the Divide which provided some early insights into the impact of the pandemic on the Government’s health and social care agenda.
On May 25, George Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis police officer who kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes as Floyd gasped, “I can’t breathe.” On March 13, Breonna Taylor was shot dead by police who stormed her home as she slept. On February 25, Ahmaud Arbery was killed in the middle of the day by two white men, a retired policeman and his son. They got in their car, tailed him, and shot him twice.
The Government this week published a Command Paper, setting out its approach to implementing the Northern Ireland Protocol in the UK-EU Withdrawal Agreement.
The Protocol gives Northern Ireland a special economic status – within the UK’s customs territory, but in regulatory alignment with the EU single market for goods. The Protocol also requires provisions to be put in place to ensure that goods “at risk” of entering the EU single market via the land border with the Republic of Ireland are subject to the correct checks and controls. The continuation of the Protocol is subject to the ongoing consent of the Northern Ireland Assembly after four years.
Just as the main talks on a permanent Brexit agreement are currently bogged down, the EU had begun to panic that the already agreed Irish Protocol was also stuck in the doldrums. The UK government had thus been under heavy pressure to begin tangible preparations to enact the measures agreed in last December’s revised Protocol. Brussels was demanding border infrastructure, computer systems for customs declarations and an office in Belfast to house EU officials who would oversee the customs measures.
Both Wall Street and the City of London are speculating whether the next innovation in monetary policy will be the use of negative interest rates as a deliberate tool. The new Governor of the Bank of England, Andrew Bailey, has changed the Bank’s position from that of the previous Governor, Mark Carney, who made clear that negative interest rates were not a proposition he was seriously considering. The central bank’s Chief Economist, Andrew Haldane, and one member of the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC), Silvana Tenreyro, have canvassed the idea.
When the coronavirus crisis first hit the UK, the greatest fear was that it would overwhelm the NHS. Ministers and clinicians had seen the catastrophic impact overseas – in first-rate health care systems such as Italy’s – and worried that hospitals here faced total collapse. Thanks to swift and concerted efforts, that fear has not been realised.
However, it is now clear that Covid-19 has hit hardest in this country’s care homes instead. New data from the Office for National Statistics shows that the number of deaths recorded in care homes in England and Wales this year is more than double the average from previous years. This is a national tragedy. Families across the country are grieving for loved ones.
Digital contact tracing looks set to dominate the political agenda for the coming weeks, if not months. Without a vaccine, and in the absence of widespread population immunity, the only methods to stop the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 are those of standard epidemic control such as case isolation, physical distancing, contact tracing and increasing hygiene measures.
Dean Godson, the Director of Policy Exchange, wrote for Conservative Home about how the Conservative Party is divided on policy towards China in the midst of the coronavirus crisis. “Nearly everyone now has an opinion on China because of Covid19,” he says. “One measurement of the salience of an issue is the proliferation of party caucuses – such as the Huawei WhatsApp Group and the China Research Group. There is also talk of an alternative to the China APPG, seen by some as insufficiently challenging to the PRC.” Read the article here.
In 2015 the Government excluded onshore wind from the Contracts for Difference support scheme based on concerns from local residents about visual impact. Since then, whilst new nuclear power and fracking have struggled to get off the ground, the cost of onshore wind has continued to fall, Parliament has declared a climate emergency, and the Government has legislated for net zero emissions by 2050.
A new Chancellor of the Exchequer and a new Governor of the Bank of England offer the opportunity of taking a fresh look at not just monetary policy, but macro-economic policy as a whole and the role of fiscal policy within it. A decade after the Great Recession, there are profound questions that policy makers should be exploring.