Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Alex Massie on Public Health Scotland

I believe that we need to improve transparency in government in all parts of the United Kingdom and under governments and councils of all political parties. 

This is specifically not a party-political point - we all need to do better at letting the public see what is going on and what is being done in their name, and ensure that the enormous influencing power of government and council PR machines are used to circulate information which the public needs to know in an impartial manner, not to circulate party propaganda and vanity publications for whoever is in power.

Nobody is in a brilliant position to point fingers over this - there have been instances of bad practice which can be laid at the door of people from all of Britain's political parties and by Independents.

As an example, I think that we need to make sure next year's inquiry into the handling of the pandemic looks very carefully at what went wrong with discharges from hospitals into care homes here in Britain and for purposes of comparison in other countries - it certainly went wrong in both England and Scotland and it is my understanding that similar mistakes were made in other countries including the USA and France. We need to learn from this to make sure these mistakes and the terrible cost which went with them are not repeated if or when there is another pandemic.

I am concerned about what Alex Massie has written in The Times here about Public Health Scotland.

He refers to a communications strategy for PHS. approved by the Scottish government, which seeks to restrict PHS from publishing information that might cause “sustained or widespread criticism of the Scottish government” or lead to “ministers being pressed to make a statement to parliament”.    

If a similar document approved by the UK government seeking to control what Public Health England can say which might embarrass the Westminster government fell into the hands of the BBC or most newspapers I suspect we - quite rightly - wouldn't hear the end of it for weeks. Why has the fuss about Holyrood doing it apparently been limited to a couple of articles in the Times?

Massie writes that the document says

"Above all, any material published by PHS should be considered in the context of “Does it challenge — or could it be interpreted as a critique of — Scottish government position or policy?” Well, if it is independent it often will challenge the position. That’s often the way with facts.

It gets worse: “Communications decisions should be holistic, taking account of the wider context, risks, opportunities and possible stakeholder reactions.” 

Since the Scottish government is the key “stakeholder” the meaning is clear: never say anything that might embarrass the government. The framework further asks, “Will we accept a higher level of risk to challenge policy makers?” and it is heavily implied that the ordinary answer to this will be in the negative."

He concludes that the most insidious forms of corruption are those which 

"involve the capturing of independent agencies and the suppression of awkward truths."

Whoever the threat comes from, a democratic society needs to be on the alert against such practices 


2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Institutional corruption is endemic in Britain

Chris Whiteside said...

That comment is so broad as to be almost meaningless.

In my humble opinion if you are going to throw words like "corruption" you should be specific about what specific policy, arrangement or pattern of behavior you find corrupt, as the article from Alex Massie which I referred to was.