The incredibly moving contributions from my colleagues, my hon. Friend Emma Hardy and Joy Morrissey, remind us that every death is a family member and a friend; this reaches every one of us. Today, we hear that the death toll from covid has hit 50,000, the fifth highest in the world, but the UK is only the 21st country by size of population: world-beating, but for all the wrong reasons.
Throughout the past few months, we have seen amazing acts of kindness in my constituency to keep everyone safe, to support those who are vulnerable and to protect those in need. Community groups staffed mainly by volunteers have stepped forward, from the hot meals being provided by the Open Kitchen, the gurdwara and the mosques, to the food parcels from the Hounslow Community FoodBox in Brentford and the Bridgelink food bank in Isleworth, and of course many individuals have stepped forward to help their neighbours—I thank them all. Hounslow council has also stepped up in response to the new needs by providing services to local residents, such as delivering 8,000 further food packages and making 20,000 calls to those who are shielding, while working to tackle long-term problems around unemployment and job reskilling—issues that are so important, as so many of my constituents work at Heathrow airport.
That is why the incompetent approach of our national Government to key issues has been beyond frustrating. Until the Government start delivering on the covid response, infection and death rates will stay high, which means that lockdowns will have to be extended, repeated, or both. We all know that this is a challenging time for the Government and for Governments across the world, but key issues have been known about for months, yet little or nothing from the UK Government seems to change.
It is a simple truth that to control disease and infection in a population, the more testing and contact tracing that can be done, the better. We saw the fiasco at the start of September when my constituents were being sent to Cardiff, Southampton and further to get tested. We have consistently faced delayed and lost tests. I submitted written questions to Ministers asking how many test results were not returned. Shockingly, I was told that that information was not collected. If the data is not being collected, the success of the contract cannot be measured, and if it cannot be measured, there are no penalties for non-delivery. What a waste of public money.
Furthermore, a high contact tracing rate is essential to control the spread of infection, yet week after week we have seen track and trace in England—a multimillion-pound private sector operation—perform appallingly compared with public sector-run programmes in places such as Wales, which is reaching 90% of close contacts, whereas in England the figure has plunged to below 60%. Is that another missed target, or was a target contact tracing rate not included in the test and trace contract?
Before entering this place, I served as a Hounslow councillor and an office holder at the Local Government Association. If we had seen the level of cronyism, gross incompetence, spending of millions of pounds—not even billions—and targets missed in a local authority in the way that the Government are behaving, Ministers at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government would have called in the inspectors. PPE contracts have gone to companies with no ability to deliver, while competent UK companies have been ignored. When entrusted with taxpayers’ money, the Government should first ask whether the public sector can do the job—GPs for testing, and public health directors for track and trace. If the public sector cannot do it, proper contracting—playing by the rules—should be essential.