Lord Mayor I hope that this afternoon’s debate will lead to unanimity of the Council.
It is my view that we owe it to the people of the city who have suffered as a result of Covid. The death toll at the moment is 666, there are people who are suffering the effects of long Covid, people whose lives have been disrupted in a whole variety of ways, workwise, education and socially and there is a need for a Public Inquiry to begin immediately.
The argument that a Public Inquiry should start in Spring of next year is an inadequate response and it does not hold water. There should have been an initial Public Inquiry held during the summer of last year to ascertain how the Government had responded to the pandemic at that point.
It becomes more imperative that a Public Inquiry should now start as soon as possible and I will go on to describe the reasons why.
The idea that we must wait until next year seems to me to smack of complacency around what lessons might be learnt in the future. And why next spring? Will there be another excuse why a Public Inquiry could not be held next Spring and the can would be kicked up the road yet again.
Lord Mayor I don’t believe anybody questions the success of the vaccination programme led by the NHS, this must of course form part of the Public Inquiry because lessons to be learnt are about what has gone right and what hasn’t. The role here of our scientists, engineers and NHS staff in making the rollout such a success is worthy of consideration. But of course it should not erase what had gone before.
I am certain that everybody in the Chamber will have issues that they believe should be covered by lines of enquiry which will make up the agenda for any Public Inquiry. The reasons why we need a Public Inquiry are because books are already being written on the events of the last 15 months such as The Failures of State, the Inside Story of Britain’s Battle of Coronavirus by Jonathan Calvert and George Arbuthnott and of course over recent weeks the evidence given to parliamentary committees by both Matt Hancock and Dominic Cummings. With claim and counterclaim, including the recent emergence of further primary sources.
To hear claims such as there have been tens of thousands of avoidable deaths is heart-breaking and people need and deserve to know the truth as soon as possible. That is why we need to move away from the he said, she said opinions and move to a properly structured Public Inquiry as soon as possible. The void around speculation simply needs to be closed off. I would anticipate further books are likely to be written but it is really imperative that we learn lessons at the earliest possible stage in case we were ever to face such a terrible situation again.
It appears to me that the prospect of a pandemic was a number one risk and concern that was identified by Governments for a number of years. And we do need to understand how ready we were in reality to deal with a pandemic. Along with the United States, we apparently were pandemic ready but were we? Our per capita death rate is one of the highest in the world and our economy has faced the greatest damage as a result of our response to Covid.
Were the 50 specialist beds plus 500 additional beds sufficient to see us through the pandemic? What role did austerity play in undermining the planning for a pandemic? Were there sufficient supplies of PPE secured? Did we really put a protective arm around care homes? And was the test, trace and isolate programme which had been identified for £37billion worth of funding really world-beating?
We clearly need to understand why our BAME communities and the poorest in society suffered the worst effects of Covid. The issue of lockdown timing, especially around the Autumn of 2020 and an overlong reliance on the discredited Tier system and more contemporaneously, the whole issue of the emergence of the Delta variant and to concerns about border responses over the last 15 months.
Nobody is saying that this was not a difficult situation for any Government to face, that is not the point of this debate this afternoon. The point of this debate is to actually learn lessons which might put us in a position to better deal with something like this in the future.
I come back Lord Mayor to what I say originally that I do hope that this debate will be unanimously supported by Council this afternoon so that this Council can add its voice to the bereaved families and the many others who by the day are adding their voice, who are calling for a public inquiry to commence as soon as possible. This is the right time to commence a Public Inquiry, there can be no avoiding a Public Inquiry given the number of deaths that have occurred in this country as a result of Covid-19 and now is the appropriate time to begin that Public Inquiry out of respect for all of those who have been so adversely impacted upon by this wicked virus.
Lord Mayor I move.