Local Contact Tracing

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:04 pm on 14th October 2020.

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Photo of Alison McGovern Alison McGovern Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) 6:04 pm, 14th October 2020

I am glad to be called in this debate, so thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I will make one point before speaking about tracking and tracing in the Wirral.

It is disappointing to listen to Conservative Members criticising a political party’s position or what its briefings might have been earlier this week or last week, before SAGE’s minutes and reports were published on the next steps that are needed. I would far rather that the Labour party had to correct its press releases than that we fail to save lives that we otherwise could. I am sorry that Conservative Members take a different view.

My hon. Friend Margaret Greenwood spoke about the need for improved, larger public health teams, particularly in the Wirral. I am thankful for Julie Webster and Elspeth Anwar, our director and deputy director of public health in the Wirral, who have been absolutely first-class public servants. They have explained to me that, although they now have much more data about the outbreak in the Wirral and the rest of Merseyside, we do not have enough analysis.

That is to say that we cannot easily understand the story the data is telling us, because we do not have enough specialists working on this, particularly in the Wirral. I have learned through three years on the Treasury Committee and wading through reams of economic data that it is not actually about the figures in front of you; it is about understanding the story that the data is telling you and acting accordingly. It is not numbers for the sake of numbers; it is the instructions those numbers give.

In an outbreak like this, we need a hypothesis about the methods of transmission so that we are able to test it against the data. I say to the Minister that we not only need to help local authorities with the data; we also need analytical capacity in every town hall in Britain, because this virus travels through local areas in different ways. In London, many people are able to work from home. In a manufacturing environment, as we have in the Wirral, that just is not possible. People cannot make cars and airplanes from their front room.

The virus travels differently in places where public transport is more frequently used. Some places use buses rather than trains, and they are a different environment. That is why I say again to the Minister: give us data analysts in every town hall in Britain, so we can understand how this virus is travelling through our country and put a stop to it. If we had proper analysis and local understanding, we would have half a chance of finding out how this virus works.