Local Contact Tracing

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:13 pm on 14th October 2020.

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Photo of Kieran Mullan Kieran Mullan Conservative, Crewe and Nantwich 5:13 pm, 14th October 2020

I welcome the opportunity to take part in this important debate.

Effective contact tracing is going to help us to tackle this virus, and all of us here want the best possible version of that tool in the toolbox. The question is how best we do that. Despite what the Opposition might have people believe, there are no easy answers to this problem. It is easy to stand up in this place or go on TV and say, “Fix it”, but anyone with any real-world experience of organising any kind of project or undertaking that is even a fraction of the scale and size of this one understands the incredible challenges that are inevitably faced. Over recent months, the Government have built a huge testing regime capable of processing 340,000 tests a day that has tested over 7 million people in a matter of months. At the start of this epidemic, the yardstick for all this was Germany. Now that we are testing more people than Germany, France, Italy and Denmark, and many others, that yardstick has quietly disappeared.

Yes, there are challenges. Supply and demand are not uniform across the country and supply needs to be increased, but, whatever Labour Members think about the Government’s approach to testing and tracing, if they describe testing 69% as a complete failure, what does that say about the Welsh Labour Government’s programme? To be brutally honest, I am struggling to understand what exactly Labour Members are trying to say today, beyond of course, “We could have done it differently. It would all have been different and fantastic, and nothing would have gone wrong.” That is basically their position on everything to do with the coronavirus.

Let us talk about some of Labour Members’ common criticisms. They say we should not have the private sector involved, and that there is insufficient capacity. At the same time as criticising the Government for not having enough testing capacity, they are telling them that they should immediately and drastically cut out a chunk of that capacity because it does not suit their ideology. This is all based on their blinkered mentality that if the private sector does something it will automatically be bad and if the public sector does something it will automatically be good.

That brings me to the question of whether doing everything locally would have been the right approach at the outset of the programme. I simply do not accept that asking all 152 directors of public health to go off and set up their own approach at the outset would have been in any way feasible. Were they all supposed to come up with their own laboratories, their own contracts and their own apps? That just is not a credible solution in the short term. It was common sense to begin with a central programme, although even at the outset, when it was clear that something centrally driven was needed to kickstart the process, the Government recognised that local systems had a role to play. Many months before Labour was calling for it, £300 million was provided to help local authorities to develop their own test and trace programmes and, importantly, we have now 93 local authority test and trace regimes up and running.

So what is it that Labour Members are saying? Is it that we should immediately hand over everything that is being run nationally to local authorities?