Ralph Kirkwood considers that the coronavirus epidemic is one in a series of inevitable crises, and argues that we have seen government behave in part as the “insurer of last resort”, but we have never properly defined that role, and we must.

It is said that the first role of government is to protect the people.  While this statement is not usually made with a global pandemic in mind, in the coronavirus crisis almost all governments around the world have tried to do this with varying degrees of success. 

The role of government has changed over time in response to the crises of the day: from Keynes’ idea of government acting as the purchaser of last resort, to the financial crash resulting in the government acting as the lender of last resort and now in the wake of this crisis the government acting as insurer of last resort.  In defining the new responsibilities of government we need to ensure that we learn the lessons of the past and define those responsibilities from the centre left.  We must win the argument, as Keynes did in his time but as the centre left failed to do a decade ago across the globe.  If the government really is the insurer of last resort, then after this crisis is over it better start acting like it.

Insurance companies do two key things.  First, they offer an insurance policy for which you pay a premium.  This ‘insurance policy’ payout from the government in scenarios like the coronavirus pandemic needs greater definition in slower time.  It would be churlish not to recognise the tremendous effort from both the UK and Scottish governments and the civil service in standing up the support programmes in such a short space of time.  While overall it has had the effect of propping up the economy, there are undoubtedly some areas that could be improved.  Now is not the time to get into these in too much detail, but we do need to look at the impact of these schemes once we have managed to get back on our feet.  We can then ensure that we design policies that will more effectively support businesses and the wider economy for the next time that this happens.

It is important to recognise the good work that the private sector has done in rising to this challenge too, from alcohol producers moving to the production of hand sanitiser to large fashion producers starting production of PPE.  But we must also acknowledge that this could be better coordinated, and it should be done through a developed industrial strategy and government taking on the second key activity of an insurance company.

The second thing that insurance companies do is invest the money that is collected from premiums in the time that they don’t need to pay out.  If we assume that this global pandemic is a once in a century event, then that is a lot of investment that we could be making.  Couple this with the “wall of money” that is building in private sector investment and there are significant opportunities that can come if we can steer that investment into the right areas.  The first area of investment should be where we have failed in this crisis – PPE and testing.

We remain in a position in the UK where PPE and testing are inadequate to deal with this crisis.  To be better prepared for future we need to ensure that we can get our hands on both more quickly.  Here the best solution is not to have a stockpile of materials that will go out of date, leaving their utility in a crisis in question, but instead to enable Domestic Distributed Capability of Production (DDCP) for these key items.

DDCP means that we should be able to stand up local production in short order.  This is something that we have already seen in the production of ventilators and in PPE in Scotland, demonstrating that bodies such as Scottish Enterprise working with the private sector can deliver incredible results in accelerated timelines.  In normal times being able to start up production of quality PPE from scratch in six weeks is almost unthinkably fast, but during a pandemic it is just too slow.  We similarly cannot be reliant on deliveries of materials from overseas to much fanfare that fail on basic quality

We can do this through institutions such as the new Scottish National Investment Bank making investments directly to SMEs to build the capability for these new production lines, and Scottish Enterprise ensuring that this capability is maintained.  This direct investment in our SMEs will ensure that for the next crisis, instead of SMEs putting their employees on furlough we can have them still gainfully employed producing the items that our public services require.  We will have this capability in place for when we need it, but we can still use normal supply routes in normal times. 

This would be more straightforward for PPE production than it would for testing capabilities, but in testing too we can be more prepared for the next crisis.  We have excellent biomedical testing facilities in this country that could see us get tests created and result centres established.  Again the requirement is an ability to start these processes quickly, and our experience with coronavirus can help make this better for next time.

The key thing is to shape this in a way that is aligned to our values and that matches up with a proper industrial strategy.  Scottish Labour produced an excellent industrial strategy ahead of the 2017 election that requires to be revisited in the light of coronavirus.  DDCP must be a plank of the strategy that is offered as part of our manifesto in the Holyrood elections next year. 

I agree with Matt, we should shape this new post coronavirus world and need to start that process now.  To do this we must win the argument over the role of government in the 2020s.   We must learn the lessons of Keynes, who won his argument about the role of government in supporting demand, as well as the lessons of the financial crisis, where the centre left worldwide lost the argument on austerity. 

The next decade will be one of economic repair and preparation for the next crisis.  This type of activity is, in part, carried out by insurers.    It’s time that we decided what type of insurer our government needs to be – one that looks for any excuse to not pay out, or one that seeks to support those who have been faithfully paying their premiums best prepare for and recover from these situations.

Related Posts

31 thoughts on “The insurer of last resort?

  1. Im not sure what the purpose of this article is other than to highlight lessons learned and to point out ideas already being considered but I am curious about the term “center left”. In todays terms within the UK that places the ideal firmly in the spectrum of Conservatism. The UK political spectrum has moved so far to the right that the term left or left of centre has become radical almost fringe yet its the ideal best supported and naturally followed by the vast majority of people who are not privileged or patronised. populism is a term giving to the outer galactic fringes of the Neo right where we place the likes of the Brexit party UKIP and the BNP. We then have the Neo Conservatives where the present Government sits slightly left of that we have Conservatism where labour and the Lib Dems presently sit. Left and centre left is where parties such as the SNP Greens Plaid Cymru and Sein Fein presently reside.
    Seems many in Labour are confused regarding the new shift in political dynamics in the UK.

    1. The idea that the SNP – a nationalist party which retains power through middle class bungs like university tuition while cutting the grants which enabled poorer students to attend university – is more left wing than Labour is simply laughable.

      1. It’s funny how “universalism”, which used to be a central plank of Labour policy, is now a “middle class bung”. Is “means testing” now the preferred route for Labour?

      2. Amazing to think that it used to be regarded as a socialist position to fight for free universal provision of health and education until Labour decided that is was ok to charge students for education at university. Now those supporting free university education are accused of supporting middle class bungs. The curse of ‘new Labour’ continues to linger long after Blair has become history

      3. Labour like the Conservatives Lib Dems UKIP the BNP and the DUP all support and openly endorse the same Nationalist ideology.
        Labour is still looking for its way back into Scotland I would suggest they start by not referring to Universalism as middle class bungs.

        1. Labour endorses no nationalist ideology. This really is a weak argument, the idea that everyone’s a nationalist of some variety. It’s nonsense.

          Universalism has its place, but “free” tuition is NOT universalism because it a) only applies to some students, and b) creates a cap on numbers which prevents other students from getting a place at all.

          The worst thing the SNP did was to turn this into an article of faith. It stops its effects being discussed rationally. Tuition fees set at a reasonable level and funded through a student loans system that only requires repayment if the person is able to repay, and in any event is written off after a set period, is not the terrible system it is so often made out to be, and solves many problems that “free” tuition causes. But this conversation is always conducted in glib soundbites.

          1. Denying reality is weak Duncan. British Nationalism is real. Those who support it believe that the UK is only 1 single country state the UK of GB and NI. That would be you for one.

            The Scottish Government hasnt capped University tuition fees on anybody its the UK Government that plans to cap it on English Students because they’re not Social Democrats or Socialists.

            The SNP believe that tuition is a right not a privilege for those who can afford to pay because unlike you they follow an ideology of social democracy.

            Its Labour members like you who actually prove my arguments for me. You’re a Conservative Duncan you and those like you dont belong in a Labour party that wants to follow a Social Democratic program.

            You’re the reason why Labour cant make a come back in Scotland. Scotland does’nt do Conservatism. Its why Labour has failed badly in opposition. Too many Conservatives in Labour dont want to oppose the Conservatives on the benches opposite they would rather stab their own leaders in the back if they swing even a fraction to the left.

          2. Hi Andy. I’m not the one denying reality. Nationalism is not the belief that a nation exists. Pretending it is is a desperate way to avoid addressing it. My view, as expressed on numerous occasions over the years, is that the UK is a country and Scotland is also a country. I don’t struggle with that duality because I’ve understood it all my life. I think those who pretend to struggle with it are really just not wanting it to be true.

            On the topic of “free” tuition, you are entirely wrong I’m afraid. The Scottish Government does cap the number of Scottish students who can get free places, as I said. You can read about it here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-38328648

            And no, I’m not a Conservative. I believe in a large state and collective action, the Tories believe in a small state and individual responsibility. Please don’t mis-describe me again.

          3. In a sense you simply cannot have democracy without “nationalism” because democratic control is all about the “nation”.
            When Brown stated “British jobs for British workers” he was rehearsing a path well trodden by Labour since the 1940’s( and a century earlier by Keir Hardie). There is an historic argument that after British Imperialism died in, say, 1948 (after India), a raft of new nations appeared, one of them being “Britain”. Post- war Labour governments strived to build “national” economic structures, in Coal, Steel, Health–with import controls, limits on money going abroad, a national plan for food production. Under Labour, the economy was becoming less liberal and more protectionist. It was no surprise that Labour was anti-EEC in 1975—or that Corbyn was anti-EU in 2016. This was to protect their vision of a “national” Britain—a mini version of a “command economy”.
            At no time in my lifetime has Labour been internationalist other than of the vaguest of notions. Labour has expounded “Britain, Britishness, the country” at every turn, in every election.
            I say Britain deliberately, both because that tends to be the term used by Unionists (though also calling the country “England”), but also because both the Conservative and Labour parties believe in national self determination for Ireland (through the Belfast Agreement and Downing Street Declaration), but on the British mainland Tory and Labour deny Scotland has that same democratic right—indeed, Ian Murray has expounded the incredible theory that if the Scottish electorate give a mandate for a plebiscite on constitutional change, that can be expunged by the election of a British Labour government in London (with no Scottish MP’s?) many years later. If that isn’t a definition of British nationalist exceptionalism, I don’t know what is!

            I have no real problem with tuition fees, other than it only became an issue in Scotland when England decided to do it. A whole generation of Scottish Labour MPs who enjoyed the benefits of free education then jumped on the bandwagon. If they had volunteered or been asked to retrospectively fund their education, I would have had more respect for them.
            Some of our neighbouring countries enjoy low, or no, fees for college education—but they don’t have internal political parties advocating their countries MUST adopt next doors policies.

          4. It was Labour and the Lib Dems who abolished tuition fees in Scotland Gavin. Perhaps you misremembered – there’s certainly been a concerted spin effort from the SNP since 2007 to pretend it was them.

          5. So it was a Labour “middle class bung” that you are now beating the SNP over the head with. Was it okay when Labour introduced it
            ….. but became “bad” when the SNP got behind it?

          6. No, it was a middle class bung when Labour and the Lib Dems did it. But at least we introduced the Graduate Endowment at the same time which explicitly funded access to HE for poorer students. The SNP scrapped the endowments and the grants they funded.

          7. Duncan, I an not a member of the SNP. The only party I ever joined was Labour, but like Keir Hardie, I came to believe Scotland should run its own affairs. Since there is no longer a “Dominion status”, then that means independent self government ( the international norm).
            I am actually puzzled as to Scottish Labours tuition fee policy. We have Johann Lamond asserting Scotland cannot afford “free” university education, only to be trumped by Jim Murphy who states in 2015, that yes we can. Then in 2019 Corbyn wants to abolish fees in England.
            What is your exact policy here, Duncan?

          8. I am not the Labour Party. Please address questions about current policy positions to the Labour party, not me. I’m afraid I can’t help on that.

  2. I am pleased to see that the author seems to support the SNP government’s idea of a Scottish National Investment Bank. Our politics will be better if people are able to support good ideas when proposed or delivered by their opponents.

  3. It is interesting to note that you can almost always spot a Unionist, even why not addressing the Union v independence issue, because they often can’t help but reveal the prism through which they observe the world in whatever they write . This article is no different, The author speaks about a lack of PPE ‘in the UK’ and then gives an example of PPE being sourced for England from Turkey that proved to be a bit of a shambles. Of course, each country of the UK is responsible for sourcing supplies of the PPE that each requires, so it would be nice if this article could at least reflect the much better Scottish experience as far as PPE is concerned and not use English examples to illustrate a problem that England has faced as though that is somehow relevant to us in Scotland.

  4. Ralph I agree with what you say the total lack of leadership at UK level has been appalling the virus is now a political football .Testing to long to get started .Lack of PPE relying on medical equipment and medication manufactured overseas .The Scottish Gov and local authorities especially North Ayrshire Council were quick of the mark organizing food boxes and a full support package including medication deliveries for people on shielding etc .
    Lack of PPE for NHS and other workers .The care home disaster .All need to be looked at .
    The cost of lockdown will be enormous a lot of companies wont survive we are heading for a deep recession .
    Our political leaders will need to make difficult decisions regarding all aspects of our lives especially on how we run the NHS .And they need to start planning now.
    Stay at home simple message everyone except Dominic understood it then at UK level and without much consultation including not telling some Cabinet ministers it changed to stay alert the PM failed in his speech to the country to say England only that was the start of uncertainty in the public mind .
    At the weekend people on shielding got text messages telling them no longer on shielding GPS not told a disgrace who was responsible for that.
    Then Dominic went on his famous road trip to Durham .
    I think he just panicked and bolted It was the trip to the castle to test his eyesight with wife and child that for me may have effectively in the public mind have ended lockdown
    Then in the runup to the weekend mixed messages led to packed beeches traffic jams little social distancing .
    I think lockdown is being ended far to early for financial reasons at UK level
    The virus has not gone away at the daily briefings a low death count is a success .
    I hope we are not celebrating to soon .Stay safe everyone

  5. Monday June 1 CH4 news local authorities in England were not told of changes to the shielding rules until late Sunday night .The director of primary care NHS England was not told either she spent Monday trying to find out what was happening .
    If she did not know how were shielding patients in England supposed to know what was happening.

  6. 100 year pandemics? We have had three coronavirus outbreaks in the last few decades–SARS, Mers and Covid. It comes from over-stressing animals, and humans do it with pigs, poultry and in the case of Mers, camels. So it could be anything you can ( or cannot) think of, and it could come tomorrow.
    Preparedness? We always get ready for the last war, not the next one.
    Governments are lazy and defer decisions to the next guy in the chair. There will be no build up of capacity to sit idle for year after year, when one supplier ( in China?) can supply all global needs at a good rate. Nor is there ever any spare cash to put aside for a “health emergency”—all spending being based on current taxation and borrowing.
    We can all think of ideal government in an ideal world, if only I/Me/You were In charge.
    But it’s the Tories, and in the midst of a Covid shambles with Cummings noising us all up, the Tories just extended their polling lead over Labour down south. Boris has the advantage of having achieved his goal (PM and Brexit), no longer gives a monkeys, so can spout any old cobblers knowing his faithful media chums just lap it up. I suspect he will be gone before the next election, his political career as triumphal as his journalistic one–to what I have no idea, but he will leave slithery Gove as his successor.
    Starmer is a fine man, with ideals, but as exciting as the Ministers grannie. England is a Tory country, easily led by the media—itself now heavily right wing.
    A week is a long time, blah, blah—but it doesn’t look good for Labour.

  7. Wednesdays PMQS showed how easily the PM can be provoked total lack of leadership. And another black day thousands of redundancies and don’t forget Brexit and the American trade deal are still being negotiated

  8. The UK Gov scientific advisors say they were not consulted over the new quarantine laws. The Scottish Government carried out operation Iris simulating an outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome in Scotland shared with the UK .
    It found
    a clear gap in preparedness and front line staff unease over PPE BBC news and red button Friday 5 June.
    Gavin a guest on the Alec Salmond show on Thursday 4 June said Boris has shown such poor leadership qualities and annoyed that many of his own MPS especially over Dominic he might face a leadership challenge before the next election .Davy Dominic his parents cottage might not have had planning permission
    On top of the virus and with thousands of redundancies this week can we remember Brexit negotiations are still going on as are UK USA trade talks and remember Donald Trump got the nickname America First because he puts
    American jobs first .
    And remember do what the First Minister has said especially with rain expected this weekend don’t invite people in so stay safe folks.

  9. Friday June 5 STV news website operation Iris was carried out in 2018.

  10. June 6 BBC Red Button NHS in England say they were not told about the change of policy for face coverings and visitor policy in England.
    From June 15 staff must wear surgical masks hospital visitors and outpatients must wear face coverings .Hospitals will provide masks if required .UK Gov say trusts were told .
    CH4 news say no UK government minister or MP has been available to be interviewed by them for 3 weeks .
    And at the daily virus briefing CH4 news has not been called to ask a question all week .

  11. Duncan

    Disingenuous as always.

    By definition you cant be a Nationalist if you dont believe in the concept of the Nation state.

    The UK and Scotland cant both be Countries by the very definition of what is and what isnt a Country. By definition you cant place a Country within a different Country.

    There is a cap on the number of University places everywhere Duncan and it isnt based on whether fees are paid or not its based on the fact that university places are finite in number.

    Labour and the Lib Dems didnt abolish tuition fees they re-branded them and fooled nobody in the process. The “Graduate Endowment FEE” was a fee paid for tuition.

    1. Impressive levels of inaccuracies there Andy.

      1. Yes. That’s not what I argued. Read it again.

      2. Of course they can both be countries. You evidently have never looked up the definition of a country! You seem to be confusing it with a state.

      3. The whole point is that there is a cap on *free* places but students from England are not capped because they pay. Please read the article I linked to. Scottish students are being disadvantaged. Don’t you care?

      4. The Graduate Endowment was categorically not a fee paid for tuition. That is a flat out lie.

      1. Duncan is correct that the UK and Scotland can both be countries. However the issue is that they can not both be sovereign countries. At present the UK is the sovereign country and British nationalists argue that that should continue to be the case. Others argue the Scotland should be a sovereign country in its own right, a position supported by Scottish Nationalists. Duncan is therefore a British nationalist but may prefer to call himself a ‘UK nationalist’ – either way, everyone except those who believe there should be no sovereign countries is a nationalist of some sort

        1. No he isnt. You cant have Countries within Countries by the very definition of what is and what isnt a Country. You cannot leave a Country and still be in the same Country you’ve just left unless its the Country of Schrödinger.

          Britain is an Island that hosts 3 Countries. Its beyond absurd and not a little demented to try and pretend it isnt when you openly acknowledge the existence of the 3 Countries within Britain and the 4 Countries within the UK.

      2. 1. Indeed its what you deny in spite of the fact that its undeniable.

        2.No they cant. You cant cross a Internationally recognised National border and remain in the same country nor can you be in 2 different countries at the same time by the very definition of what is and what isnt a Country. You’re being ridiculous and I believe deliberately.

        3. There is no cap on free places at all there is an overall cap on ALL places because University placement is finite.
        Which piece of Scottish Government legislation puts Scottish students at a disadvantage from other students with regards to not having to pay tuition fees? Link to it.

        4. Yes it was and you know it and are flat out lying in denying it. Students or their families were forced to pay 2K for their tuition. I think you are the only member of Labour still denying the Endowment FEE was a FEE.

  12. Guys Sunday June 7 Ch4 in aid of charity showed the entire 1966 world cup final .I am the only person I know who admits to watching it haha. Cant remember the score and it was never a goal haha .
    Did not know Alf Ramsay personally took the decision to share the bonus money amongst the entire 22 man squad
    Whether they played or not .Ramsay insisted his teams were physically fit they spent hours and hours getting fit .
    Did not know people in the Royal box were told not to sing the national anthem ..
    Apparently that’s the tradition .
    Found out years ago at the after match England dinner it was ladies in one dinning room players in another Martin Peters the only player who went with his family .And no subs in those days .
    I have been told for some reason that if they had shown the 67 Wembley game which we won people might have watched haha.

Comments are closed.