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O: Obesity and other stuff

As landfill sighs from the weight of another week’s PPE, our government’s inactivity on Brexit peeks through the fog and we are forced to wear masks after 18 weeks of indecision (facemask transition?), we arrive at the letter O, which, without further ado, stands for obesity.

People who are overweight are less likely to be hired, are lower paid, have fewer opportunities and are often bullied in and out of the workplace.

They are also much more likely to die from Covid-19.

It might be treason to say anything negative about the NHS, but, at the risk of killing a unicorn, more than half (over 700,000) of NHS staff are overweight or obese, according to NHS England. And over 200 NHS staff have died from the virus. 

The reason for this might be unusual shift patterns, a lot of sitting down, or over indulgence on chocolates from grateful relatives. They, as we all do, live in a small country, with over 26,000 fast food outlets.

The pandemic has highlighted the fact that obesity can kill, yet the government’s first reaction to kickstart the economy is to offer half-price meals from McDonalds and other junk food outlets.   

They took this decision on their own, without any help; pretty much everything else they do is outsourced.

In Germany, power is devolved to 17 different regions who have taken responsibilty for their citizens, but in the UK, all decisions for England are taken at the centre (by Dominic Cummings) and the actions needed are outsourced to private companies for profit, rather than local authorities, or even the civil service.

Most companies specialise in something specific; the law, a product, a skill, and most of their employees pursue this objective, but they also need ancillary staff to facilitate the operation of their core business, like accountants, HR departments and receptionists etc.

SMEs might outsource some or all of these services and will find the best solution for them. The government outsources to its friends.

Prior to this situation, one of the most notable examples of outsourcing came from Chris Grayling.    

Known for ‘failing upwards’, ‘Failing Grayling’ was secretary of state for transport, when he oversaw Project Seaborne Freight.

He paid £1m to consultants and awarded a £14m contract to a firm for ferry services in the event of a no-deal Brexit. It swiftly emerged that the terms and conditions on Seaborne Freight’s website were cut and pasted from a food delivery firm. In one section they pointed out: “It is the responsibility of the customer to thoroughly check the supplied goods before agreeing to pay for any meal/order.” Grayling had failed to check Seaborne’s goods before paying, and so it was that he only found out after losing £14m that the ferry firm had no ferries.

Unbelievable, but the government’s practice of outsourcing continues unabated. 

During the pandemic, government contracts for PPE, for frontline NHS staff, have been awarded to a pest control supply company, office furniture makers and currency traders.

600 contracts worth £5.5bn

Awarded to 200 companies

The biggest PPE contract is the £252m deal awarded to Ayanda Capital Limited. The firm, which describes itself as “a London-based family office focused on a broad investment strategy”, is ultimately owned through a Mauritius-based holding company and headed by Tim Horlick, a former director of investment bank Kleinwort Benson, and ex-husband of “City superwoman” Nicola Horlick. Its website states that the company specialises in “currency trading, offshore property, private equity and trade financing”.

A private company owned and controlled by Dominic Cummings paid more than a quarter of a million pounds to the artificial intelligence firm that worked on the Vote Leave campaign.

Steve Monbiot:

‘This stinks. It stinks worse than any of the other carrion this government has buried. Every day for the past fortnight, I’ve been asking myself why this scandal isn’t all over the front pages. Under cover of the pandemic, the government has awarded contracts worth billions of pounds for equipment on which our lives depend, without competition or transparency. It has trampled on its own rules, operated secretly and made incomprehensible and – in some cases – highly questionable decisions.

Let’s begin with the latest case, unearthed by investigative journalists at the Guardian and openDemocracy. It involves a contract to test the effectiveness of the government’s coronavirus messaging, worth £840,000. It was issued by the Cabinet Office, which is run by Michael Gove. The deal appears to have been struck on 3 March, but the only written record in the public domain is a letter dated 5 June, retrospectively offering the contract that had already been granted. There was no advertisement for the work, and no competition. No official notice of the award has yet been published. The deal appears to have been done with a handshake and a slap on the back.’

Online shopping: Bye-bye high street.

Orwellian

Rod Bailey, CEO

We need to talk about the New Normal. 

Or somewhere closer to what our esteemed leaders are increasingly yet hopefully proclaiming a ‘return to normal’. I’m in a privileged position; pretty close to the international business community and a quick straw poll shows that most of my colleagues sit pretty firmly in the ‘back to normal’ camp. It’s true they pay lip service to ’seeing this an an opportunity’, of ‘war accelerating history’, and of the rise of the ’adaptability quotient’ but the stark reality – it seems to me – is that those who currently sit on top of the power pile are in a bit too much of a hurry to get back to BAU. 

This is bad news. BAU à la 2019 was a train crash. Take your pick from the climate crisis, widening inequality, the death of privacy, burgeoning nationalism/ third world war, any number of potential future corona pandemics to name but a few from your catastrophe-porn menu and you’ll be reminded that BAU was no place to be. 

The choice is stark: ‘Back to normal’ where a few corporate giants and the odd dictatorship harvest our data, spouting their ‘all pigs are equal’ bullshit as they steer our planet towards oblivion, all the while feathering their Space-X escapes. Or, and here’s a thought; why don’t we actually try to change something. Think big? 

Here’s an example from my corner of the corporate treadmill. Headhunting. Why don’t we just stick to video and ban all travel for interviews, starting with international travel? Why don’t we all stay working from home most of the time? The result would be a massive carbon saving combined with an equally impressive (as much as 50%) cost saving for our industry. 

Headhunting costs less for end-users, I make more profit and pay higher taxes (happily) to subsidise a universal basic income (UBI) compensating and re-training those who have lost their jobs working in the less sustainable industries. 

Time to stop the sleepwalk back to an Orwellian normal I’d say. FFS… 

 

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