Saturday, 11 April 2020

What can we learn from COVID-19?

It’s a truism to say that prevention is better than a cure [1], and no sane person would deny it’s better to stop something bad from happening than to deal with its consequences after it does.

Prevention measures cost money, and the problem is that it’s very hard to tell that they are working because if successful, bad things don’t happen (or happen less frequently and/or with less impact). And that means when governments are looking to cut funding, they often turn to those services that are at the forefront of prevention: health, social care [2], education and service infrastructure.

This is basically what successive Conservative governments have done for years – in 2018 The King's Fund, Nuffield Trust and the Health Foundation wrote a joint letter to the government stressing that NHS funding needed to be much higher than the current practice [3], this was ignored [4]. And even Labour governments have made cuts, though to a lesser extent. The thing is, that when things are on an even keel, making these cuts doesn’t have a hugely negative impact. Oh yes, it affects some people (usually the most vulnerable), but by and large it isn’t very noticeable because it’s slow.

Then, eventually, something bad does happen; disaster strikes. And the impoverished services can’t cope – they can’t cope with the consequences because they can’t scale up quickly enough. Resources aren’t in place. Supply chains aren’t in place. Plans haven’t been made. It's a lesson in Requisite Variety that governments just never seem to learn!

This is what we have seen with COVID-19. If the NHS and other essential frontline services had been better funded over the years, they would have been able to mount a much faster and more effective response than they did (for example Germany has had a much better testing regime than the UK, able to test around 500,000 people a week in April 2020, whilst UK had only tested about 214,000 by the beginning of April) [5].

What workers in the NHS, police and other frontline services have done is nothing less than miraculous. But they shouldn’t have had to perform miracles; they should already have been well enough resourced.

And now a government that has in the past said it can’t afford to fund the NHS to the tune it needs, is pouring billions into the service. So it wasn’t impossible to do this after all! And if they had done it sooner the impact of COVID-19 would have been better contained. There would have been fewer deaths.

Now I don’t want to “Tory bash” – what I want is that lessons be learned from this and for things to change. After the crisis is over, let’s not go back to the regime of austerity and cuts to our social infrastructure services.

Because an even bigger crisis than COVID-19 is looming. Climate change hasn’t gone away. And if we don’t act in a far better, more concerted fashion than at present, it won’t just be the millions in Africa and India and SE Asia who are suffering already: it will be us too. Globally crops will start to fail, and there will be a worldwide food crisis [6]. Sea levels will continue to rise, and major cities like London will face flooding on a scale never seen before, with new predictions showing that a rise of 2m might occur by 2100 [7].

Learn the lessons of under-funding social infrastructure - and never let our governments make cuts like those of the past again: learn the lessons of not funding prevention measures to the scale they need. We know now what was needed for COVID-19 and magically the money is now being found.

Well we also know what’s needed for climate change: massive funding for green energy, not just the trickle that’s currently in place [8]. And stop fossil fuel exploitation – dead, instead of the rebates and tax breaks [9]. Oh the Shells and BPs and Essos will wail and moan, but things must change. Stop people flying unless they have to. If, as a result of COVID-19, some airlines go bust, let them [10]. Fewer planes and fewer airlines is a good thing. Foreign holidays are a luxury not a necessity!

The madness of HS2 should be cancelled immediately. If it’s allowed to continue it will overspend much much more than it already has (The original estimate was £36 billion, now it’s estimated it’ll cost around £88 billion, but costs are still rising [11]). The money could and should be used for local public transport measures. We don’t need to have to travel long distances at high speeds, we need economies that are based on local communities and local productivity.


1. Prevention is better than a cure:

Royal College of Nursing, ‘Prevention is better than cure’

2. Social Care funding:

The King’s Fund, 21 November 2018, ‘Prevention is better than cure – except when it comes to paying for it’

3. NHS funding: 

The King’s Fund, 6 June 2018, ‘An open letter: a long-term funding settlement for the NHS’

4. NHS funding: 

Full Fact, 9 July 2019 , ‘Spending on the NHS in England’

5. COVID-19 testing: 

Guardian online, 7 April 2020, ‘UK must learn from German response to Covid-19, says Whitty’

6. Climate change and crop failure:

Science Advances Vol. 5, no. 7, 3 July 2019, ‘Synchronous crop failures and climate-forced production variability’

7. Climate change and sea level rise:

PNAS Vol 116 (23) 4 June 2019, ‘Ice sheet contributions to future sea-level rise from structured expert judgment’

8. Renewable energy funding by government:

Energy Voice, 13 February 2019, ‘UK Government increases renewables funding following review’

9. Tax breaks for fossil fuel producers:

Energy Voice, 8 April 2020, ‘UK regime sees Shell pay no taxes on North Sea business in 2019’

10. COVID-19 impact on airlines:

Guardian online, 15 March 2020, 'UK airlines call for multibillion bailout to survive Covid-19 crisis'

11. HS2 costs: 

Oakervee Review of HS2, December 2019 (para 7.4)

Wednesday, 26 February 2020

So what can I do about climate change?

I am a foster carer and one of the 15-year-old girls in my care (we also care for her twin sister) is very keen on campaigning about climate change, having been on two recent climate school strikes. However, when I talk to her about what she could do personally, it's a struggle as she sees the problems as:

a) too big for an individual to make a difference;
b) the responsibility of the adults (who are to blame).

So this post is a kind of response to that, because I think everyone can make a difference - no matter how small. And a lot of small differences add up! Now there are lots of online resources that provide great advice about what you can do, and I have provided links to some of them below. I don't pretend to offer better or different options; this is simply my personal response to the issue. If it makes even one reader stop and think, and maybe take personal action as well, then I'll be well pleased!

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Is Labour anti-Semitic?

Is the Labour Party anti-Semitic? I don't think anyone will ever know all the facts, but it seems to me that the media are playing up this label because
  1. it's sensational, and the media love sensation, and
  2. it's an easy way to tar Labour's image without actually analysing its policies or politics.
I'm Jewish by birth (though I became a Christian in my teens) - so that makes me Jewish by race, if not religion. I'm also a Labour supporter. That's because I believe that Labour's policies are the best for the country as a whole (and I'm not just talking 'Brexit' here). My take on Labour's so-called anti-Semitism is as follows:

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Project Viability – a cybernetics approach, part 4

So far this series I have looked at the idea of Requisite Variety (part 1) in project management communications in terms of assessing the environment (part 2) and internal communications (part 3) within the project. In this final part we return to the environment this time looking at how we get the project messages “out there” effectively.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Project Viability – a cybernetics approach, part 3

In the first part of this series I introduced the idea of Requisite Variety and attempted to outline how it might apply to project management.  The second part looked in more detail at the inputs into a project from its external environment and the need for Attenuation (or filtering). This third installment covers information flows within the project.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Project Viability – a cybernetics approach, part 2

In the first part of this series I introduced the idea of Requisite Variety and attempted to outline how it might apply to project management.  This second part will look in more detail at the inputs into a project and the need for Attenuation (or filtering). There are two aspects to this: where attenuation should occur and how to attenuate effectively. The terms attenuation and filter are used interchangeably below.

Monday, 19 October 2015

Project Viability – a cybernetics approach, part 1

A lot has been said and written about why projects succeed and why they fail. Surveys are carried out and analyses published. And whilst many common themes emerge when you read about them, not a lot seems to change. It leaves me wondering whether we’re on quite the right track when we ask about project success or failure. I wonder of we should ask about project “viability”. Let me explain…

Thursday, 15 October 2015

The five powers of “why”

As a parent I well remember when my daughters were little and they would often ask the question “why?”… repeatedly, and sometimes to the point of frustration! Intuitively they knew the power of why: it’s so much more important than what or how or who or when.
This article briefly discusses several ways in which why is so powerful.

Monday, 21 September 2015

The little law of project management

OK, so you think project management is an overhead. You know what has to be done, so why not just get on with it? All this paperwork just adds time (and cost)!

If I could have a penny for every time I’ve heard this or seen it written I’d be as rich as the proverbial millionaire! (Well a bit of an overstatement, but you get my meaning).
Well, for anyone who is a PM sceptic (and maybe even those who aren’t) let me introduce you to Little’s Law.

Friday, 10 July 2015

Business as unusual

The great InThinking thought-leader Bill Bellows gave an inspiring talk at the recent Lean Management Journal (LMJ) Annual Conference in Amsterdam (8-9 July 2015). A lot of what is written below draws from his insights1 but I have added some of my own thoughts and references as well.