Yesterday when I wrote about how a local test, track and trace system could use civic pride to help keep us all safe I really didn’t expect that we would have an example of failure caused by not grounding the system in localities quite so soon.
But on Monday morning we saw things beginning to unravel in Leicester.
One reason for this is language. We have a Prime Minister that thinks that it’s OK to use disrespect as a method of describing policy. For the next few months, wherever there is a local outbreak, he will refer to his government’s response strategy as his “whack-a-mole” policy.
So yesterday morning when the Prime Minister explained what is happening with a local spike in the virus he said that the local “whack-a-mole” strategy had worked in Weston-Super-Mare and where there had been outbreaks around GP surgeries in London. “That’s the same approach that we will bring to bear in Leicester as well”.
Remember that so far as his Secretary of State’s policy is concerned the core of the test, track and trace system is appealing to people’s sense of civic duty. Remember also that your locality is worried that there may be more sick people around and greater danger there than in other places. People are anxious.
Jokes are all well and good but language has consequences and using disrespect as a form of fun has consequence.
When the Prime Minister refers to your locality as a mole to be whacked does he expect this to enhance your sense of civic duty?
The core of the problem for the current test, track and trace system – and one that is exemplified by what has happened in Leicester – is the fact that while the data is owned centrally we all agree that action has to take place locally.
So when – at 1am on Monday June 29 – the mayor of Leicester,Sir Peter Soulsby, receives a report from the centre detailing problems in his city that may require him to continue elements of lockdown, it is the first time he gets to know about the data. (Although central government leaked announcements last week).
I know Peter Soulsby and know that every day, as mayor, he works hard with his citizens to develop the civic pride that the Secretary of State wants to build his test, track and trace system upon.
Peter Soulsby reacted to this 1am delivery by saying that it is the first time he has seen the data. “When I look at their report, as I have done over the last few hours, it is not justified by any of the figures they have let us have. There is very little substance in it
I have to say if they are talking to us on the basis of this report they are talking to us on the basis of something hastily cobbled together, incredibly superficial and clearly based on a misunderstanding or a failure to understand the city.”
Having seen the report at 1am he is saying all this on the airwaves as soon as broadcasting starts.
Crucially, when he says the report is ‘clearly based on a misunderstanding or a failure to understand the city” he speaks with all the civic pride that the Secretary of State is yearning for.
This is the first example of the test, track and trace system that all of us are depending on in action. And it starts with a row between national and local governments. With a local experience that feels not just frustrating but that its based upon a failure to understand the locality.
Across the country there are civic leaders like Peter Soulsby. We need to mobilise them by involving them all the way through this crisis. Don’t keep them in the dark and then whack them. That won’t work.
Incidentally the report that Peter Soulsby received before dawn recommends that local officials consider weekly testing of all care home staff – around 250 venues – “to protect the most vulnerable for the next four weeks”.
This seems to be a recommendation to ‘throw a protective ring around Leicester’s care homes’. This protective ring looks like a good idea – which would have been even better if it had been thrown around all care homes from mid-March this year.
Which of course it wasn’t..