From Channel 4 News last night and reported in several local newspapers but ignored by BBC Scotland and the other press:
‘In a bid to alleviate the pressure on GP surgeries, as of Monday this week, NHS Boards across Scotland started to use a unique system for treating patients experiencing symptoms. Today they have 50 dedicated coronavirus assessment centres set up across the country.’
The new Community Assessment Centres (CACs) will be appointment-only hubs which will maximise the number of symptomatic people who can be cared for within the community. It will ensure that hospital capacity is used for those with the most serious illnesses and reduce the exposure of patients at GP surgeries and allow GPs to focus on providing care to patients with other complex health issues. A central CAC has opened on Barr Street and is operational from 8am to 10pm, with a view to moving to 24/7 when necessary. Other centres are expected to open in the city soon.
THE daily death rate due to coronavirus has hit a record level.Eight have died in Scotland from Covid-19 – the highest number in one day since the outbreak -bringing the total number to 33.
You can sense their excitement at a ‘record level’ to headline and it is a record level of deaths but not a record level death rate. Being pedantic can be tiresome, I’ll admit, but sometimes the target of the correction just deserves it.
The crude number of deaths is not a rate but the rate of deaths as a percentage of cases is. Unfortunately for the Herald it was 3.2% on Wednesday past and only 3.1% last night.
Though the 8 additional deaths reported today are deeply upsetting, Scotland’s mortality rate remains ‘relatively low’ in a wider context and as described on Good Morning Scotland, nearly four weeks since the first recorded case in Dundee on 2nd March.
With 33 deaths from 1059 cases, the rate is 3.1%, up from 2.8% yesterday and similar to the rate on the day before, at 3.2%.
In Spain, in the last 24 hours, there were 769 deaths. Spain has 9 times the population of Scotland but nearly 100 times the coronavirus death rate. Hopefully we’ve seen the last of the outrageous prophecies from the Glasgow anaesthetist infecting all parts of BBC Scotland and the Herald.
The UK average is also up slightly from 4.8% yesterday to 5.2%, but as in Scotland, holding at roughly the same level for several days.
I appreciate that we have not peaked yet, but a degree of modest optimism combined with discipline is not a bad thing.
Footnote: There were more than 4 700 deaths from all causes, in Scotland in February 2020, around 150 a day.
Headlining in the UK news at 6pm and then again at 6.30, we see a melodramatic report, based on an unattributed single source from social media, utterly contrary to their own published editorial guidelines:
‘As the number of confirmed Scottish cases climbs above 1 000, there are still (sic) concerns that frontline NHS staff don’t have proper protective equipment.’
The word ‘still’ refers presumably to a previous report based on a Facebook chatroom hosted by one GP.
‘The BMA says provision remains patchy.’
The BMA is a trades union which clearly has no figures to offer here, reliable or otherwise.
‘They’re having to improvise to save lives. This is the homemade protective equipment medical staff (sic) are cobbling together in the face of shortages in the NHS.’
This statement is based on social media postings, unattributed and not corroborated. Their own guidelines say:
All BBC output [….] must be well sourced, based on sound evidence, and corroborated.
‘Medical staff’ presumably refers to the two people pictured. A public service provider needs far more evidence than this to consider reporting.
Then we are presented with this:
See the referencing to ‘what she had to say’ and ‘inadequate infection control?’
This has all the signs of being from the same wee team led by the Glasgow anaesthetist and her BBC Scotland pals who prophesied Scotland becoming like Spain and Italy.
Let’s be clear. The ‘mown down’ phrase is irresponsible scaremongering like the earlier reference to Spain where the mortality rate is MORE THAN 10 TIMES GREATER PER CAPITA.
There is no evidence at all of inadequate infection control. NHS Scotland’s low mortality level is clear evidence that infection control is at a high level. We already knew before the coronavirus outbreak that it was so as Norovirus closed wards across England but not in Scotland, in January.
This report is based almost entirely on material from social media. BBC guidelines are clear that such material must be treated with caution:
Material from the Internet and Social Media
3.3.11 Even apparently reliable sources of information on the web may not always be accurate. It may be necessary to check who is running the website or confirm with an individual or organisation that the material relevant to them is genuine.
3.3.12 Care needs to be taken to distinguish fact from rumour, particularly – but by no means exclusively – on social media where misinformation may be deliberate and where error or rumour can spread around the world in minutes, while corrections find it harder to gain traction.
Additional scrutiny may be necessary if material from a social media site or other internet source is being used to corroborate a fact. Material that we did not gather ourselves should be attributed.
I’ll return to it later. It encouraged a look at what’s going on elsewhere in terms of economic policy responses to the pandemic, especially in smaller independent Western countries. And alongside this, it’s interesting to see what is being revealed of their intrinsic resilience.
How does Norway cope with crisis?
It’s common in Scotland to look to Norway as an example of ‘what might have been’ for our country. On 18 March, Reuters reported that the Norwegian Government had committed $8.85 billion to support the economy. However, the article reminds us that in addition Norway “can also draw from its sovereign wealth fund, the world’s largest, which had a value of $885 billion on Wednesday (18 March) …”.
In setting out its response to the crisis the Norwegian government has stated: “Norway has ample room for manoeuvre in economic policy.”
It noted: “The Norwegian sovereign wealth fund (Government Pension Fund Global – GPFG) provides a sizeable fiscal buffer. The Norwegian petroleum wealth has been transformed from natural resource wealth into financial wealth. The GPFG is now around three times the size of Norway’s mainland economy (non-oil economy). The sovereign wealth fund is designed for the long term, but in a way that makes it possible to draw on when required.”
When looking at how smaller Western countries are coping, perhaps Norway is not a convincing comparator, after all an independent Scotland would no longer have the opportunity to ‘transform natural resource wealth into financial wealth’ to the same extent as Norway over past decades of oil & gas production. So let’s look instead at Denmark.
What follows is from an interview with Professor Flemming Larsen, of the Center for Labor Market Research at Denmark’s Aalborg University. It was published in The Atlantic magazine.
It estimates the size of the Danish government’s intervention up to 21 March of 287 billon DKK, the equivalent of c.13 percent of the country’s GDP. (For context, it explains that in the USA this would equate to an intervention of the order of c.$2.5 trillion.)
Moreover Larsen notes: “.. today, the Danish economy is extremely strong. We have a huge surplus. We have a negative interest rate. There is a lot of public savings. So there is a lot of room to do this now.”
And he adds: “I have to say that the decision-making process in Denmark has been very extraordinary. We have 10 parties in Parliament. From the very left-wing to the really, really right-wing. And they all agree. There is nearly 100 percent consensus about this. And that’s really amazing. People are convinced that it’s wise to do this now.”
It is also notable how Denmark, a country of c. 5.7 million people and even without a Norway-style wealth fund, is not just economically (and politically) resilient. This is from an OECD assessment of Denmark’s national health care system:
“Health spending in Denmark is higher than in most other EU countries: in 2017, Denmark spent 10.1 % of its GDP on health, above the EU average (9.8 %), but a lower share than in other Nordic countries like Sweden and Norway .… Spending per person was also higher than the EU average …. (adjusted for differences in purchasing power).”
And importantly the OECD report adds: “Public spending on health is high, but long-term fiscal sustainability is not threatened.”
Source: OECD (2019) State of Health in the EU – Denmark: Country Health Profile.
Too wee, too poor, too stupid? Certainly not Denmark – even without a sovereign wealth fund!
Scotland’s ‘sharp downturn’ in crisis – the rest of the story
So to return to the start, The Herald and its piece headlined: “Coronavirus has sent Scottish economy into ‘sharp economic downturn’”. This is based on recent output from the Fraser of Allander Institute (FOAI):
Source: Fraser of Allander Institute (2020) Economic Commentary Vol 44 No 1 – Coronavirus Special Edition.
Although the pandemic will undoubtedly be having a very serious impact on Scotland’s economy, it perhaps comes as no surprise to find that the FOAI tells us some other things of value for CONTEXT that are not reported by The Herald!
Firstly, to state the obvious perhaps, Scotland’s economy is neither only or uniquely affected. In the Foreword to the FOAI report John Macintosh, Tax Partner at Deloitte, writes: “COVID-19 is a truly global crisis and its economic implications will be felt by all. Businesses across Scotland, the UK, and the rest of the world are, for one of the first times in history, facing many of the same challenges.”
Picking up on the theme of resilience, the FOAI report asks: “One immediate question is how resilient is our economy to coping with a downturn (and possibly a severe downturn)?” Notably it offers this assurance omitted by The Herald: “…. we have A STRONG AND ROBUST ECONOMY IN SCOTLAND ..”
And then there is this: “During the latest of Deloitte’s weekly ‘Responding to COVID-19’ webinars on 19 March, which was joined by c.4,000 people from businesses and other organisations, almost three-quarters of participants expected activity to come back in the second half of this year.”
It goes on (with my emphasis): “But that could imply a short, sharp hit to activity with a RECOVERY THIS SUMMER OR A MORE PROTRACTED SLUMP AND A RECOVERY IN THE WINTER MONTHS. The Fraser comments suggest that THEY SEE THE PROTRACTED SLUMP as a more realistic assessment at this stage.”
So this appears to indicate that a recovery in the ‘winter months’ is (more) realistic by what is a ‘strong and robust’ Scottish economy. This context is also absent from The Herald’s piece: too much positivity?
Why we are where we are
However in making further, sensible, cautionary statements about economic recovery, the FOAI report helpfully reminds us of the conditions under which Scotland’s economy has been operating in the lead up to the pandemic. Again I’ll add this to give context that The Herald omitted:
“The crisis comes on the back of THREE AND A HALF YEARS OF BREXIT UNCERTAINTY, which has STALLED INVESTMENT and ERODED CONFIDENCE. UK growth in 2019 was just 1.4%, the slowest rate of growth since the financial crisis.”
“… unlike recoveries from previous recessions, the performance of both the Scottish and UK economies since the 2008-09 financial crisis has been – at best – weak. Flatlining productivity, coupled with A PERIOD OF AUSTERITY, has led to a decade of fragile growth.”
And finally, important questions arise
It is perfectly legitimate for us in Scotland to pose certain questions:
who was responsible for Brexit and its damaging uncertainty?
who has been responsible for monetary policy under which Scotland’s economy has had to operate?
who has been responsible for the bulk of fiscal policy under which Scotland’s economy has had to operate?
who’s political choice was it to impose austerity?
who has been responsible for labour market and employment policies under which Scotland’s economy has had to operate?
In short, who holds the levers of power over Scotland’s economy? The questions are all too easy to answer – and where responsibility lies is self-evident!
Reading through a twitter thread by David Allan Green regarding the emergency powers legislation – note that it is a statutory instrument based on another act (so it is not a stand alone law) and is not indefinite and must be proportionate – but obviously we have to have our own version in Scotland and I’ve still to find it, though there is a tweet here commenting on the key difference:
In a longish reflection more about Iraq and Afghanistan, than Scottish politics, and tempting us with a lovely image where we cannot hear her because she is: ‘Kneeling on the sofa with a duvet over my head, curtains closed in the middle of the day‘, Britain’s appointed TV News Commissar in Scotland, Lady Sara Smith, without any apparent sense of irony, asks:
‘Will my reporting appear less credible?’
Breakfasts across the land are spluttered over table-tops, even sprayed onto TV screens, as millions shout:
‘You could not be less credible!’
This is the woman who loves to insert whenever she can, fibs such as those about school standards ‘slipping’, Tory ‘resurgences’ or drug legislation reserved to London being ‘convenient’ for the SNP.
Being able to write as she does only reveals that elitist, blinkered sense of entitlement we have come to expect from Scotland’s Labour aristocracy.
‘Renewable energy accounted for 90% of all electricity used in Scotland last year, new figures have revealed. The Scottish Government said more electricity was generated from renewable sources in 2019 than ever before – 30 terrawatt hours (TWh), up from 26.5 TWh in 2018. With one year to go until a target of 100% gross electricity consumption from renewables, 2019 estimates found 90% came from renewable sources as opposed to 76.2% during the previous year. The amount of renewable energy produced is equivalent to the electricity needed to power all Scottish homes for more than three years, or the energy used to charge 6.7 billion phones for a year. The majority of Scotland’s renewable electricity continues to be converted from wind on land, despite offshore wind increasing production from 1.3 TWh to 3.3 TWh in the last year. This is attributed in part to the Beatrice wind farm off the Caithness coast becoming operational in May.’
In Energy Voice yesterday: ‘Mammoth Highland offshore wind farms are footing a bill of around £20 million more per year than English projects to connect to the grid, according to the builder of what will be Scotland’s biggest wind venture. The levied regime in the UK, called transmission charging and set up by the energy
In the Herald only six months ago, we were still being warned of the costs of wind farm subsidies which, as an independent nation, we supposedly could not afford. Critics, of course fail to mention two things. First other forms of power generation as also subsidised. Nuclear and fossil fuel generation are currently subsidised at
‘The deaths of 67 heart surgery patients at a London hospital were probably, most likely, or definitely caused by “significant shortcomings” in treatment, a report has found.The review looked at the cardiac surgery unit at St George’s University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust between 2013 and 2018.’
The report has, of course, no references to any responsibility for this stopping at Westminster politicians. Once again BBC Scotland staff had to be drafted in it show how it is done.
Not reported by BBC, the PM was cornered by Londoners as he left his local off-licence last night and asked why nearly all London hospitals have been shown to have issues of resilience. They reminded him of recent reports on three other London hospital with serious problems of safety for patients:
The emergency services at King’s College Hospital in London were inspected in November 2019 and the report appeared last week. They were found to be unsafe. The inspectors found:
The service still did not ensure staff had completed mandatory training, and expected targets were not always being achieved.
The service still did not have fully suitable premises. There was no dedicated paediatric mental health assessment room available and there was a lack of consideration given to ligature points.
Consumable single use equipment items were not rotated properly to ensure all items were in date.
Patients could not access care and treatment in a timely way, however, there was evidence of improvement in this area.
That the A&E department did not satisfy the inspectors was not surprising given its performance. In January 2020 only 57.6% of patients were seen within 4 hours. The target is 95%.