Scousers cheer Metro Mayor (but it’s not their own)

It’s been a little surreal over the last couple of days as Scousers have been piling onto social media to cheer along on Greater Manchester’s Metro Mayor Andy Burnham! Yes you’ve read that right Scousers cheering a Manc’, when anything to do with Manchester is usually treated with utter distain probably because of football loyalties in the city of the Beatles where the main religion is indeed football be it red or blue.

But the Manc’ Mayor is actually all but a Scouser himself having been born in Aintree Village/Old Roan on Merseyside, so I guess that allows Liverpudlians to cheer him on even though he’s working for the enemy so to speak.

Personally, I’m no fan of Burham at all as I recall him, when in government, having a hand in NHS privatisation, something he seems to oppose these days. I also see him as a populist politician who will shift his ground to follow the crowd. However, presently he seems to be a bit of a hero in some folks minds because he’s been taking on Johnson’s Government when here on Merseyside/in Liverpool City Region Burham’s Labour colleagues are being accused of capitulating in the same Covid 19 Tier 3 lockdown fight in the very first round.

Steve Rotheram, the former Labour MP for Liverpool Walton, is the Liverpool City Region Mayor and he seems to find himself very much in Burnham’s shadow. Of course Burham is media savvy indeed he seems to be the darling of the media who rush to him for quotes on anything remotely to do with anything in Greater Manchester or even the North West of England. Poor Rotheram is clearly not so comfortable surrounded by the press and being out shone by Burnham must surely be getting him down.

I’ve said before and I’ll say it again that public health is the loser in the spat between northern leaders and Johnson’s Government over the detail of Covid 19 Tier 3 lockdown measures and the compensation which closing businesses will or won’t be getting. At the very time we need unity of purpose at all levels of governance we end up with a party political ding dong.

Interestingly, these issues have not just been exercising the minds of Labour Council Leaders, MP’s and Metro Mayors as plenty of Tory MP’s and Council Leaders in the north have also been picking a fight with Johnson and Sunak. Indeed, I hear that Labour allowed the northern Tories to have a good old go at Johnson’s lot before they joined in. It seems that Lancashire has gained a ‘better’ deal than Merseyside because they’ve been offered a better (better than what?) business compensation package and also their gyms will not have to close. The latter is very much a moot point because if gyms are seen by scientists as being Covid 19 spreaders then it’s debatable whether that aspect is part of a better deal or simply a bad decision. I know many folk think gyms are key to better mental health so them being open outweighs the negatives/challenges of them being open. I’m no scientist so am left wondering whether the trade-off’s are right or wrong and I guess that goes for many of us watching this most public of fallouts.

But what of Greater Manchester’s still to be done deal? What will Comrade Burnham ‘win’ for his own patch or, together with his Tory Lancashire colleagues, has he shown up how Merseyside’s Labour Leaders fell into line following the first Government punch?

More importantly, as this Covid 19 battle is seemingly going to last for a long time, through various phases have ‘lessons been learned’ (a favourite politician’s phrase) about putting public health first rather than political point scoring? Answers on a postcard……………….

Merseyrail and face mask compliance

That the knotty issue of non-compliance with with face covering on public transport was brought to my attention the other day and with particular reference to Merseyrail.

A 507/508 EMU Merseyrail unit at Crescent Road level crossing – Birkdale, Southport.

I must admit that I had wrongly assumed that Merseyrail’s security staff would be empowered to tackle non-compliance because they’re not.

I asked Merseyrail about this and they replied ‘we are unable to enforce the face covering rule, but continue to educate all of our passengers on the matter. We also work with British Transport Police, who are able to issue fines for those who break the rule‘ they went on to say ‘Legally we are not able to issue fixed penalty notices to those passengers not wearing a face covering, but please be assured, as a responsible operator, we are doing all we can to keep our passengers safe’.

It strikes me that Merseyrail (and this probably means every other rail franchise operator in the UK?) have been placed between a rock and a hard place. By that I mean that they and their passengers have been told that all passengers must wear face coverings but in reality there’s going to be little or no challenging of those who refuse to comply, unless that is British Transport Police are involved.

Merseyrail Class 508 EMU at Maghull Station

The issue for me is that compliance needs to seen to be enforced so that confidence is given to those who are more vulnerable to Covid 19. Clearly, such folk are not going to travel via Merseyrail if they can’t be confident their journey will be safe. So surely that means that non-compliance being in effect tolerated (whilst actually being illegal) leads to less people travelling on Merseyrail thereby it needing more public funds to keep it going during the pandemic.

What an odd carry on…….

WINTER IS COMING – A guest posting by Bob Robinson

“They think it’s all over” – the crowds have flocked to beaches and beauty spots. Pubs and restaurants have reopened albeit with social distancing and face masks – Life is slowly getting back to normal. Come September, children will go back to school. The Government’s strategy is to engineer an economic and a public health recovery and deliver Brexit – a massive economic restructuring exercise. Punchy three-word injunctions, a time honoured oratorial stand-by are back in vogue. I use 3WI’s myself – as you may have noticed this includes the title of my piece. 3WI’s ring a bell.

I just heard a bell ring. One of London’s best kept secrets is Gresham College – situated at Baynard’s Inn on High Holborn, close to Hatton Garden. Gresham College was founded in 1597, It has been providing free lectures within the City of London for over 400 years. They invite distinguished academics, who all share the ability to explain complex issues.. A recent speaker was Sir Chris Witty, Chief Medical Officer (CMO) for England, the UK Government’s Chief Medical Adviser, Chief Scientific Adviser at the Department of Health and Social Care and head of the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).

Unlike his appearances next to the Prime Minister in Downing Street, Professor Witty was given an hour and a half to explain the context and challenges of COVID. He is blessed with the talent of making things you know are complicated and iterative intelligible. He does justice to the scale of the challenge. In addition to speaking about the current pandemic, he drew on the experience of previous pandemics, In particular, he spoke of pandemics that have occurred (a)in a number of waves and that (b) the number of infections in the second and third waves were often greater than that of the first. Spanish Flu killed more people in the United States in the second wave in two months in 1918 than the first wave in 1917. A harsh reality may be about to dawn on us that “it’s not over until it’s over”.

Having set the scene Chris Witty deployed his “Game of Thrones” 3WI – “Winter is Coming”. He drew attention to the facts that diagnosis and isolation will be more difficult. We already appreciate that multi- generational families and those with poor quality homes or no homes face greater difficulties in coping with COVID. The NHS and all other health systems are always under greater pressure in the winter. He also drew attention to the increased risks associated with age and the correlation between age/obesity and death.

But the key 3WI message I drew was that in addition to COVID is “Complacency Can Kill”

You can see Professor Witty’s lecture and read his supporting documents here:

www.gresham.ac.uk/about/
www.gresham.ac.uk/lectures-and-events/covid-19
s3-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/content.gresham.ac.uk/data/binary/3292/2020-04-30_Whitty_t.pdf

Can I urge you to watch, learn and inwardly digest?

Opening up schools again – It’s NOT easy

To those outside of the often complex world of education reopening schools even on a phased basis during our health pandemic may look to be a straight forward matter, indeed government often gives such an impression. The reality of course is very different.

I’m a Trust member of a High School Academy and have been for around a year now. The school, which I also happened to attend many years ago, is not the issue here as this affects all schools across the UK. However, what I’ve learned especially since lockdown hit us is that keeping a large school of @1000 students going is a huge task. Yes the school has remained open for vulnerable students and those who are the children of Key Workers but coursework is being set and sent home to many many more students.

Schools have onerous responsibilities not just to educate our children but to safeguard them, to help manage the consequences of children living in dysfunctional family groups, to ensure they eat regularly, to help deal with all kinds of issues which affect the ability to both learn and to grow up as well rounded citizens. That’s one hell of an agenda and it’s a very different and hugely more complex one than what I encountered as a teenager in the 1970’s.

Just take the H&S Risk Assessment process which a school has to go through to enable it to teach a wider number of students within a school during this health pandemic. I can guarantee that it will be a long and complex document for any school to put together. If you think about it the RA effectively covers the students from the point they leave home to the point they return, so if they use school buses which pre-covid 19 were full to bursting but can only now accommodate say @ a dozen of them how does that work? There’s face covering to think about on those buses too. Then how many students can a school safely take in whilst maintaining safe distancing etc. etc. And what about the school’s staff members who may themselves be vulnerable due to health issues. Of course some of the students will be vulnerable too for the same reasons.

Over the past 3 months I’ve sat in on the school governors meetings (held via Zoom) as they grapple with all the above difficulties and more and I have to say the attention to detail is admirable indeed. I’m told that my job as a Trust member is to have oversight of the management of the school by the governors to ensure the objectives of the Trust are being realised/kept to. If what I have been seeing and participating in is replicated across other schools (and I’ve no reason to think that it isn’t) then seriously detailed work is happening to plan for safe workplaces and learning places for what could well be many months to come.

Teachers want to teach, they want their students to learn and be successful so if you hear of comments being made about teachers not being keen to reopen schools please take them with a pinch of salt. Teaching unions are not being obstructive they are simply trying to ensure that schools are safe for all who work or study within them. And no I’m not just saying that as a retired trade union officer, I’m saying it because of the evidence of my own eyes.

With the ‘R’ number looking very much as though it could be creeping above ‘1’ in the north west of England as I write this posting there is naturally great caution out there about reopening of schools. That caution is both well placed and seriously considered. We must ensure that reopening schools, even with significantly less students being in them each day from what used to be normal, are as safe as they can reasonably be.

Beware easy political solutions and ‘just get on with it’ rhetoric from those in power, turning a governmental wish to re-open schools this month into lager numbers of children actually being in schools is far from easy.

And just as I had completed this posting it seems that the Penny had dropped with government, at least as far as with primary schools are concerned, as this BBC article explains:-

www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-52969679

Covid-safe workplaces?

As a retired trade union officer an issue has been bouncing around in my head for a while now associated with the C19 return to work i.e. how do we ensure workplaces are as safe as they can be made?

In a unionised workplace the answer is pretty obvious as the appropriately trained TU H&S reps will ensure the workplace is safe. Indeed, I often recall that in my working days the TU H&S reps were often trained to a higher level than managers who actually held the legal H&S responsibilities.

But what happens in non-unionised workplaces? At one end of this will be the ‘sod the workers we want them back in grafting and beggar the consequences’ type employers who may well be putting pressure on employees to return to an unsafe workplace. At the other end there will be good employers who simply don’t know everything they should do (risk assessments etc.) and may then create a unsafe workplace inadvertently. Of course there’ll be every variation between these two extremes.

I decided to have a look at what the Health & Safety Executive were saying and here it is:-

www.hse.gov.uk/news/hse-regulatory-activity-during-coronavirus.htm

And here’s a link to the TUC and Coronavirus:-

www.tuc.org.uk/CoronavirusProtectingWorkers

If ever workers needed to be members of a trade union now is the time as many of the worries about returning to work will be dealt with without individuals having to do that worrying. I remain concerned that non-unionised workers will find themselves at a health disadvantage and during this pandemic that’s not where anyone wants to be.

Johnson exposed by the Sunday Times?

I’ve read the Sunday Times article of yesterday and at face value our PM, our political leaders and Public Health England are being said to have been ‘asleep at the wheel’ with more than a little evidence to back that up. Yes it’s just one side of a story but tellingly that story was blasted out by a usually Conservative supporting newspaper.

Frankly, to me, the lengthy article reads like it was well researched although unsurprisingly not all sources are disclosed particularly the inside No.10 political ones.

I’m sure Conservative leaders will seek to say that the article is a hatchet job on Johnson and I note that one Minister referred to it as ‘grotesque’, one definition of which is ‘strange and often frightening in appearance or character’ according to the Cambridge Dictionary.

And it’s easy for me as a Lib Dem opponent of the Conservative Party to say that the article proves that our Tory Government is not in control of this pandemic or at least they weren’t when it really mattered at the start. Yet well before I read the sobering Sunday Times article I had been struggling to accept that Government was in control. Again though is that just my innate response to politicians whom I have fundamental disagreements with? I’ve droned on enough in the recent past about prejudiced thinking so am I been a victim of my own party political prejudices?

It’s also interesting though that Government has not responded to the article in any serious way. Some short sound bite dismissals but not much if any evidence that Government political attack dogs have been let loose to destroy the fundamental thrust of it. That tells me that the fundamentals are probably correct and Government just wants to move on so the accusations move to the back burner of our troubled lives at present.

Is it also the case that we as a general UK population are so distracted by what is happening to us presently that we are almost pushing such accusations onto the back burner ourselves as we feel we need to have confidence in our leaders so we have hope that all will eventually be well?

Readers of this blog site will know that I have long held the view that we should trust no one with power and that their every move should be scrutinised. I fear there is much to scrutinise and that saying things like ‘this is not the not the time to look at what has gone wrong’ is no more than burying our heads in the sand. No, we need hard nosed investigative journalism more now than at any time in living memory to expose propaganda, misinformation, and the missteps of our leaders.