The High Court has ruled that the Government broke the law over the appointments of Dido Harding and Mike Coupe as part of its public health reorganisation in September 2020.
The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care did not comply with the Public Sector Equality Duty [in section 149 of the Equality Act 2010] in relation to the decisions on how to appoint (i) Baroness Harding as Interim Chair of the National Institute of Health Protection in August 2020 and (ii) Mike Coupe as Director of Testing for NHS Test and Trace in September 2020.2022.02.15 – GLP and Runnymede Trust judgment.pdf – Google Drive
The Good Law Project also points out that, in paragraph 116 of the High Court judgement, the Prime Minister broke the same law when he appointed Harding as Chair of Test and Trace in May 2020.
The Runnymede Trust brought the action because there is a duty under the Equality Act to ensure that disabled and ethnic minority communities are not discriminated against and have equal opportunities when applying for posts.
This is especially pertinent to these appointments, at the height of a Covid pandemic in which disabled and ethnic minority communities were the most vulnerable to disease and death from Covid. And controversial Do Not Resuscitate orders were used to deny treatment to disabled people, many of whom died in care homes.
The government excluded black and disabled candidates because, according to Jason Coppel QC, who led the legal team on behalf of the Runnymede Trust and the Good Law Project, the government had a “policy or practice” of “making appointments to posts critical to the pandemic response” without adopting any, or any sufficient, “fair or open competitive processes”.
Coppel said people “less likely to be known or connected to decision-makers” were put at a disadvantage.
He also said the government was failing to offer “remuneration for high-level full-time roles” and was “excluding all candidates who were not already wealthy” or held other posts for which they would continue to be paid.
In practice that meant fast tracking prominent Tories like Harding and Coupe to positions for which they were not qualified. Neither Harding nor Coupe had any medical expertise or experience of public service administration. The Good Law Project has already had some success with cases against the government for having a similar high speed channel for Tory sympathisers winning contracts for PPE.
Government lawyers argued they had no choice. In the middle of a pandemic they had to act fast to save lives. Act fast?! The reason we were in this crisis was that the government was so slow to act at the start of the pandemic.
And when they did act they discovered their policies during years of austerity had so weakened our NHS and public health infrastructure that we lacked capacity to deal with it. Instead of granting emergency funding to NHS trusts and local public health bodies, they spent billions on outsourcing to private sector giants. Serco Test and Trace was branded NHS Test and Trace but Serco got the money, not the NHS.
Meanwhile, when the NHS stepped up to deliver on the vaccine programme the government tried to take the credit. Never mind that university researchers in Oxford risked their careers and their institutions’ finances to push ahead with vaccine development months ahead of the government decision to fund them. This was when Johnson went AWOL from Cobra meetings and the cabinet was obsessed with ‘Getting Brexit Done’ and ignoring the warning signs about Covid.
Quite apart from the court decision on the legality of the process used to make these appointments, many of us thought the whole reorganisation project in the middle of a pandemic was another example of this government blaming officials for their own shortcomings, in this case by merging Public Health England with Test and Trace.
They claim they had to move fast to save lives. No. They were moving fast to save their political reputations.
And the result of this massive reorganisation in the middle of a pandemic? A second wave of massive proportions. Jeremy Farrar, a member of SAGE at the time, described the carnage (his word) in his book, Spike.
On 14th February 2021, he wrote to his colleagues at the Wellcome Trust:
Worth just noting – UK has seen ~50% of all deaths [so far] in the last seven weeks and 35% of all hospital admissions. Sobering. A reminder of what happens if you lose control of an epidemic, if you make the wrong decisions, or poor decisions coincide with events beyond our control – new variants!Page 192 – Spike
So, the seven weeks from Christmas 2020 to Valentine’s Day 2021 saw half of all UK Covid deaths and a third of all UK hospital admissions to date. This happened because the government had to act fast – to save Christmas!
Thanks to organisations like the Runnymede Trust and the Good Law Project, we are beginning to learn these decisions were not just wrong, they were illegal. This fact seems to have escaped the attention of the former head of the Crown Prosecution Service and now the leader of the Labour Party, the ‘forensic’ Keir Starmer, has spent most of the pandemic valiantly supporting the government and attacking its socialist critics.
We Need Socialism
The Runnymede Trust points out in its report on the High Court judgement that:
To level up society we cannot downplay the severity of structural racism in Britain, or disregard equalities legislation. As Covid painfully pointed out, it is precisely because inequalities are systemic that, when a crisis hits, certain communities are impacted first, the hardest and in multiple ways.Runnymede Trust / A step in the right direction for equality and levelling up
Neither Johnson nor Starmer can be trusted to ‘level up’ society. They are part of the problem. We need a new politics for a new society, a socialist politics for a socialist society.
Life long socialist. Now retired, I have been an office junior, a bookseller, a docker and a teacher. I write a lot and read a lot more. Committed member of the Society of Authors, English PEN and the National Education Union. Uncommitted member of the Labour Party. Will they expel me before my direct debit expires?