For the supposed home of market economics, the Conservative party has shown very little knowledge of it during its response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Almost every aspect of the Government’s efforts to “control the virus” that have ignored competitive market forces (i.e. most of them) have failed.
On both track and trace and procuring enough suitable PPE, the left have been quick to seize on these as failures of privitisation, when in reality they were predictable failures of what is now being referred to as “chumocracy”. In an attempt to move quickly, the Government were hasty to bypass competitive tender processes, and instead fast-tracked giving businesses already known to them, often because their owners shared values with the Government on subjects irrelevant to the coronavirus (in particular Brexit), contracts that they were all too obviously ill-equipped to handle.
If a left-wing government were found to have done this, the right would (correctly) be outraged. The lesson for the future is not so much that there needs to be a greater role for the state (just look to the decision to ignore Apple and Facebook and go with a ‘state knows best’ approach to developing a contact tracing app for an example of why that would be undesirable), but that if privitisation is to be successful then maintaining an element of competition is vital.
The one element of combating the pandemic that has retained a competitive edge has been the race to produce a vaccine. Different companies across the world vying to produce a successful vaccine, and thus secure funding and orders from national governments, has lead to an innovative, and what looks to be a successful outcome. In the Government’s attempts to role out vaccination nationwide, they’d do well to try and maintain that competitive spirit, not kill it stone dead with another poorly judged appointment of a friend of a friend.
As a starting point, the Government must bring back a full competitive tender process for contracts relating to vaccine distribution (as well as for government contracts more generally). The excuse that speed must trump due process has been shown to be a poor one; ignoring it has only reduced overall efficiency, not improved it. Beyond that, they should look to harness the full power of the market to ensure as wide a take-up of the vaccine as possible, for example, by using monetary incentives to encourage individuals to get it.