EVEN the mainstream media admit that the latest lockdown will result in a huge hit to the economy. But there’s precious little sympathy being offered to the people who have provided the money to allow governments to function, ever since governments became a thing. After all, goes the government line, we have to protect the NHS. It’s almost as if the NHS was sufficient reason for itself.
But that logic is applied elsewhere in government too. The Covid response is showing us just how vast government has become and the extent to which it can remove freedom. And that has been as big a shock to me as anyone.
Just over three years ago, after an entire career in the private sector, I decided to take up a position as a specialist within one of the government departments in Whitehall, the Department for International Trade. Specialists are typically drawn from industry and apply their knowledge to perform roles in policy development, trade negotiations etc. My role was to persuade software companies to invest in the UK. However, last March, the role changed when the government announced its first variant of lockdown. Several mutations have followed.
Travel was essentially banned. Investors could not visit, and I could not visit them. All civil servants were sent home. And because potential investor companies were effectively banned from coming to the UK, inward investment opportunities fell off a cliff. I stayed a few months to help as best I could, but I felt I was not providing value to the taxpayer, so left the role before Christmas.
The UK civil service employs some 430,000, but hundreds of thousands more are hired in as contractors, specialists and suppliers. The civil service is only a small percentage of total public sector employment. Add the NHS, local government and quangos and the total payroll is close to 6million. At least the same number again are dependent on government spending to sustain their employment. The civil service awards huge contracts to professional services firms for myriad specialist functions. In addition, spending by public sector employees sustains other sectors such as retail, construction and hospitality (in normal times).
But, since March, public sector dependency entered a whole new ballpark: furlough. As of August, some 12 per cent of UK employees were using the scheme. Furlough means that more than 50 per cent of the UK workforce is dependent on the government. Add support packages for the self-employed and it’s probably closer to 60 per cent. Add those on unemployment benefits and it looks as if two-thirds of the population is government-dependent.
Those left in private sector employment, what are they up to? Many work for the big supermarkets. Many are employed by Amazon and the big technology companies or Deliveroo or Just Eat. The employed dependence on big companies, enriched by Covid-response, has become greater while small and medium-sized firms have gone to the wall. The ones that are left are teetering. A study by the ONS published in August indicated that some two-thirds of UK businesses were at risk of insolvency – not as a result of Covid, but because of lockdowns.
Covid response has delivered everything that Jeremy Corbyn wanted, with bells on. The UK economy has become debt-dependent to eye-watering levels. Total public debt stands at over £2.1trillion, with much more to come. This year alone the Chancellor will add close to £400billion to public debt. In relative terms this is about ten times (in current monetary value) the amount we received under the post-war Marshall Plan. We are told the cost of the debt is cheap. But this level of public sector debt is without parallel. It will end in more tears.
Lockdown, in short, is an economy killer, without just cause. There also appears to be no way out. On Tuesday Chris Whitty advised us that 1 in 50 people in the UK currently have Covid-19. But of these, just one in a hundred will die because of it. Probably less, given that the test for Covid (PCR) is just so bad at finding it.
We are told that wards are overrun, but they’re overrun every winter – and the Nightingale Hospitals we built to cope with overruns can’t be staffed because perfectly well staff are being sent home because they’re being tested constantly using PCR tests that can’t seem to find illness. (More on this below.)
The UK has officially become a Potemkin Village. Most of our workforce now depends on money we don’t have. Our productive sector is waning, our innovation is tanking, and investment has nowhere to go if start-ups don’t start and scale-up businesses have no markets.