Sunday 27 March 2022

A Note on Tory Covid Profiteering

Throughout the last two years, Boris Johnson has ostentatiously praised the ingenuity of capitalism for coming up with the goods for combatting Covid. If most people hadn't heard of Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca before the pandemic, the vaccines have made them household names for hundreds of millions of people. Johnson also praised the enterprise of our home grown business class, who at a moment's notice, were able to start producing the materials the NHS and our public health strategy demanded. Images of DIY protective gear done out of bin bags and duck tape swiftly disappeared from television screens as the equipment began flowing. Covid came, and British capitalism (apparently) saw it off. Covid's invisible menace was no match for the invisible hand.

But anyone acquainting themselves with how the Tories simultaneously mismanaged the pandemic (while handling the politics of the disease with some skill) knows this is a fairy tale. With the population bar key workers shut up at home and capitalism itself on life support, the government created a market with a single customer - it - for PPE, medical equipment, and pharmaceuticals. Apart from a guaranteed sale, this market was entirely unregulated. The situation was deemed so desperate by Tory ministers that little to no due diligence was done, and everything and anything was brought up. This meant huge mountains of waste as virtually anyone who could clamber aboard the Covid gravy train did. In all, the scale of the waste was huge. According to Department of Health accounts, £2.5bn was spent on PPE unsuitable for use in NHS settings and £673m worth going straight to landfill thanks to not being suitable for any use. £750m went on products whose expiry came up before it could be used, and some £4.7bn splashed out on firms deliberately inflating their prices.

It's this latter figure that's most interesting. According to investigative work done by the Graun, Tory peer Michelle Mone privately lobbied Michael Gove on behalf of PPE Medpro, an outfit set up just to supply masks and gowns to the NHS sourced from a firm in Hong Kong. A contract was placed for £122m, and the firm fulfilled the order by paying their Chinese partners just £46m. Minus the shipping costs, whatever huge lump was left was pure profit. When Johnson talks about capitalism's "animal spirits", I'm sure it's not the leech, the tick, nor the vampire bat he has in mind. It's also worth noting the 25m gowns that arrived were rejected as unsuitable and never used - unsurprising when these "sterile garments" were produced in, reportedly, sweatshop conditions. In other words, an instance of British capitalism not rising to the occasion and parasiting off the largesse offered.

This has everything you'd expect from a Tory money scandal. Secret deals done behind the scenes, massive mark ups on goods sought, and then the delivery of complete rubbish. And it gains traction in the week the Chancellor announced he'd be doing nothing for those most in need of support as the latest round of crisis bites. Considered alongside the alacrity with which the Tories wrote off the £10bn that moved from the Treasury into the pockets of their wealthiest supporters, in this case all the logics of Tory political economy is laid bare: the use of the state, wherever possible, to enrich their class further. Even if monies expended are entirely wasteful. There's always plenty of money for the socialism of the wealthy.

Image Credit


Graham said...

Unfortunately, “Socialism for the wealthy” is now at the core of the NHS and what happened during the pandemic is merely an illustration of this.
The NHS is one of the biggest organisations in the world and its logistic wing should have been able to acquire PPE much quicker and cheaper than fly by night operators such as PPE Medipro.

However, in many cases that logistics wing doesn’t exist other than as a point for managing relationships with private subcontractors, some of which will be subcontracting further down the supply chain. At each step along this chain NHS funding turns into private profit.

It is a cliché but true that it can cost the NHS up to £150 to change a light bulb once the private maintenance company has added its mark up on the price of the bulb, inflated labour charges and management costs. Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals trust paid out £8,450 to install a dishwasher and £184 to install a bell in reception. North Staffordshire trust was charged £13,704 to install three lights in a garden.

This is not restricted to PFI hospitals as most others will have subcontracted out “ancillary services”.

I can not see Labour doing any thing to reverse this given that the rot started under the Blair government.

Blissex said...

«This has everything you'd expect from a Tory money scandal»

But that is peanuts, and in addition that tory attitude to self-dealing and parasitical profiteering is very popular among the many millions of property-owning tory voters, they can't criticize it. As usual, most of those who vote tory know perfectly well what that they are voting for self-dealing for their own benefits and that of their champions, and viceversa, so outraged posts like this are largely just pointless.

In the specific case of COVID-19 the biggest scandal is not the huge profits gifted to "savious of humanity" Big Pharma and other "costplus" "friends-of-friends" vendors.

The biggest scandals are:

* That the death rate in the UK and other "Washington Consensus" countries has been 10-100 times higher than that of countries that don't ruthlessly uphold "fatalistic liberalism" at any cost to the the lower classes.

* The widespread inability of the "aligned" press and "aligned" politicians like Starmer, Sturgeon and Davey to not just campaign for the approaches that resulted in 10-100 times lower death rates, but even to mention them.

* The press campaign of long lines of articles attacking with ludicrous innuendo the countries with those 10-100 lower death rates.

Blissex said...

«Unfortunately, “Socialism for the wealthy” is now at the core of the NHS»

The far bigger problem is not even “Socialism for the wealthy”, but what enables it politically and electorally, the widespread parasitism and profiteering of the (mostly southern) middle classes via property rentierism, which also costs the lower classes far, far more than “Socialism for the wealthy” (even if “Socialism for the wealthy” includes the many hundreds of billions gifted in various guises to the finance sector by New Labour, Conservatives and LibDems after 2008).

It is the mass rentierism of the propertied middle classes that is the central political and economic issue of the UK because it enables all the other looting.