Lockdown – Reflections at the end of week 22

The constant shuffling of the countries who appear on the UK self-isolation list speaks of a number things. One is that Covid has not gone away, since those countries going onto the list are those where increases in infection rates have taken place. Another is that, whilst our knowledge of the virus and how its spreads is building all the time, there are many things that we don’t know, testing still shows inconsistent results and not all measures designed to restrict its spread are effective. In turn, this means that the direct impact of Covid on how we live and work is going to continue for some time.

There are a number of immediate issues to be dealt with. The amnesty on evictions from homes for non-payment of rent will expire soon, with housing organisations suggesting that a quarter of a million households may be vulnerable to eviction and homelessness. The imminent expiry of the furlough scheme is continuing to have an influence on the jobs market with every week bringing more announcements of large redundancies. The high street continues to suffer, with Marks and Spencer announcing 7,000 job losses this week and town centres looking more and more empty. None of these issues are easy, with a need to balance conflicting stakeholder interests as well as the need for the Treasury to understand how government assistance will be paid for as government debt hits £2tn.

The issue which has dominated this week’s news is the exam debacle which even the government’s strongest supporters would struggle to argue had been well handled. If you set aside the extraordinary twists and turns in government policy since the A level results were announced last week, the root of the problem appears to lie in the politicisation of education. I am old fashioned enough to think that education is there to enable the nation’s children to learn in its broadest sense. There is academic learning, practical learning, learning how to live and work with other people and ultimately learning about themselves. A successful curriculum will be one which, in the main, gives those who undertake it the building blocks to tackle life well as adults. Whilst you won’t find many politicians who will disagree with that proposition, the reality is different. Education has for many years been used a statistical base for politicians to claim the success of their programmes by pointing to league tables and ever improving exam results. However, the statistical basis has been flawed with league tables consistently comparing apples not with apples but with pears and, as the infamous algorithm has shown, deliberately engineered grade inflation.

Covid will bring radical changes in how we live and work in the future and it seems naïve to think that once there is a vaccine, we’ll largely get back to a world which looks like it did in February this year. The exam grade mess has illustrated the dangers of using something as important as education for the constant electioneering that modern governments undertake throughout their terms of office. The Barnard Castle trip, which undermined the government’s credibility at the time, shows the importance that unelected political advisers have in modern governments.

It seems unlikely that a government which is significantly motivated by winning the next election will prove to be able to make and effect the policy decisions that will equip the United Kingdom for the post Covid years. It is no coincidence that the most radical government of the 20th century was the immediate post Second World War government who introduced root and branch change to tackle the societal changes which had come about in the crisis of war notwithstanding the significant economic burden of the cost of the war. It is to be noted that, having made those changes, it was not re-elected. Nevertheless, I would suggest that it is important for the government to ensure that its focus is the devising and implementation of effective policy for a changing world rather than the political expediency which has been too prominent in recent weeks.

Ian Waine leads Prettys’ Corporate Services Team and has advised on a large number of corporate recovery and corporate restructuring cases over the last 30 years. He can be contacted on 07979 498817 or iwaine@prettys.co.uk.

Ian Waine
Senior Partner