News and comment from
Roy Lilley

A lot to lose...

The fact that the Covid counting system, based on spreadsheets, has missed 16,000 people reminds us of the foolishness of cobbling together IT systems, instead of investing in end-2-end solutions.

PHE's, older, version of Excel has a 65,536 row limit, so in the data transfer from a big CSV file, rows were chopped off. The upgrade, to a later version of Excel, that copes with just over a million rows, costs about £100.

The budget for T&T is £12bn. An IT adudit might have been a good place to start?

PHE’s budgets were cut by 40%, no IT upgrades and so the gap in the data is easily dismissed by; ‘what do you expect’. 

However, in a long line of mistakes and mishandling, it contributes to a general sense that HMG is not really on top of things.

The national approach, based on BoJo’s strategic concept of ‘Whack-a-Mole’, is descending into cobble-together, bodge it and cobble-together.

If HMG’s approach is working, what would it be like if it wasn’t?

We seem to be missing a strategy. No18 says we have a plan; suppress the virus, keeping businesses going and pray for a vaccine.

The virus is not being suppressed, the numbers are on the way up, businesses are going broke and the people making the vaccines can’t tell us when we can expect to get a jab at the chemist’s.

Government is struggling under five pressures;

  • Pressure from political rivals, leading to an instinct to be less than frank when things go wrong… there’s a strong argument to be more inclusive in decision making.
  • Pressure from the media and pundits… daily press-briefing, a-la Scotland, would reduce a lot of speculation.
  • Pressure from lobby groups to open the economy. Regular explanations from scientific advisors would make it clear why, for instance, airport testing isn't worth doing and why 'Ten o'clock'? 
  • Pressure to lock-down resulting in confusing measures. Creating local and regional autonomy would make a lot of this go away.
  • Pressure to clarify a clear timescale for the future of vaccines. The present race is competitive, commercial and in confidence, developers having one eye on their share-price.

… all this creates internal pressures;

We have a plan but no strategy. Strategic-planning is an oxymoron. A strategy is a decision making framework. Plans are for carrying them out.

Neither is benchmarking against other countries and ‘world-class’ a strategy.

HMG don’t want a strategic plan but they do need a strategic position.

There are elementary mistakes that organisations make. Businesses use strategy in the concept of ‘what do we need to do to win in this market…’ 

Strategy is not about winning, it’s about success. You don’t have to ‘win’ in a market to be successful

Strategy should be about, who are our customers, what do they want and how can we get better at doing it.

HMG have made the same basic mistake. 

They’ve framed their Covid response in the context of, what do we need to do to ‘win’… in this case, ‘win the war against Covid’. 

Instead, they should be thinking; who do we need to protect, what do they want and how do we go about it.

There are two, competing priorities, protecting the wellness of the nation and the wealth of the nation. They are interrelated but separate, are irreconcilable.

Let’s ask the strategic question, framed differently; ‘what do the customers need…’ in this case, what does the public need?

They need to know how to make themselves safe and importantly, sustain their income.

A clear message about personal responsibility, for starters.

Taking a stab at HMG’s strategic position, using basic technique, I’ll go first. You can do yours later!

Five steps;

Our vision; whilst there is no vaccine publicly available, we will create a Covid-safe environment, where citizens can live lives as near normal as possible.

Values; openness, by publishing all data and inclusiveness by working with local professionals devolving to them as many decision-making powers and authorities as is possible and practicable.

Outcomes; to use all measures to maintain infection rates below R1 in all parts of the UK ensuring the safety of the public at work and day-to-day living.

Accountability; we are accountable to the public, for the performance of government departments, ministers and those holding devolved responsibilities, for their actions, through regular press briefings, Councils and Parliament.

Key performance indicators; we will be measured by public satisfaction with the management of the pandemic. Numbers of citizens, safely, returning to work, maintaining the R number below 1 in local, regional and national settings. Hospital-admissions within the capacity of the NHS. Care-home infections. The infection rates in places of education, prisons and hospitals. The percentage of covid-positive contacts who are tracked and traced.

... now you have a go!

Remember, strategically this is not about winning, there is nothing to win, but there is a huge amount to lose. 
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