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Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:43 pm on 14th October 2020.

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Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee of Privileges, Chair, Committee of Privileges 5:43 pm, 14th October 2020

My constituents’ experience of the test, trace and isolate system run by the UK Government is that it has been a complete and utter fiasco at every single stage.

On the tests, when people go on the website, regularly there are absolutely no tests available anywhere in the whole of the United Kingdom, or if they are lucky, they will be sent from the Rhondda to Aberdeen or Aberystwyth, presumably because that is alphabetically at least close to Aberdare, even if it is not physically close to the Rhondda at all.

There are no home test kits nearly all the time. A high percentage of my constituents have no car, but they are not allowed to go on public transport, so it is pretty difficult for them to get to any of the test sites. Even today, people had booked a walk-in appointment in Treorchy—they walked 6 miles there and were going to walk 6 miles back—but when they arrived they were told that they could not have their test because they were not in a car, even though it was meant to be a walk-in site.

The results service is shockingly poor: according to the Government’s own figures, just 2% of people got their results within 24 hours last week. Just 2%—how on earth could someone intend to keep a contract with a company that was failing so badly? Why is it that this company cannot do what hundreds of other private sector companies in the country do, which is allow people to track their result? People can track their Amazon delivery—I have never had one because Amazon does not pay its taxes properly—by can logging on and finding out exactly when it is going to arrive. Why can this company not do the same? It would save hours and hours of time—not least in constituency MPs’ offices, I suspect—if there was a proper system for that.

The isolate system has also been a complete failure, because the Government do not seem to understand that for many people, including many tradeswomen and tradesmen and people who work on an hourly or daily basis, the cost of self-isolating is a complete disincentive to doing the right thing. People simply cannot afford to put food on the table for their kids and be able to self-isolate for two weeks. The system the Government are introducing is far too late. It came into place only on 12 October, and so far I am not sure whether anybody has actually managed to use it. And it is not generous enough, either.

The tracing system has been a complete disaster. The target that the Government set was 80%; they have never met it in a single week—and last week it was the worst result ever. I do not understand why Baroness Harding is still in her job. It is an absolute mystery to me. Incidentally, it is a constitutional aberration that a Member of the House of Lords who votes on party political issues is also working in effect as a civil servant.

I hate this concept of “world-beating”. Every time the Prime Minister tries to look Churchillian, he just looks like Neville Chamberlain to me. Lockdowns are a sign of the failure of this system, but I bet that is where we end up.