Is test and trace really the most wasteful public spending programme ever?

When one of my kids said Test and Trace had cost £37,000,000,000 I thought I should fact check this obviously ridiculous assertion.  I mean, how do you spend that much cash over that period of time?

So I headed over to google and, low and behold, it seems he was right.  I mean, £37 billion!  That is nearly twice the cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars which lasted many years. So that got me wondering what other epic white elephants we have built over the years.

This article in the Independent does a great job of looking at some including:

  • Concorde
  • The Millennium Dome
  • The national program for IT
  • Pension reform
  • The nuclear power industry

So what do all these have in common – People just ploughing on even though the evidence rapidly arrives during the project that there is going to be a gargantuan failure.  And as we all know failure to grasp the nettle and take an earlier loss is problem we all have in our lives and businesses.

We are all optimistic individuals who believe things will work out. Who amongst us has not thought they should have stopped a contact earlier or released a poorly performing employee more swiftly?

So there is much to learn from these failures, the importance of maintaining flexibility and an willingness to change your mind. This takes bravery, and the ability to recognise you have made a mistake.

So I think there is an important epic failure of government projects missing from the article that could cost more than all of these combined.  How long will we be a self-deluded nation on Brexit?  Yes I am pleased to have had my Covid jab, so there are some upsides, but in the long term surely we will see the error of our collective ways?

Another common theme is that ministers and civil servants have often ploughed on with favoured grand projects, despite mounting problems. Often they have refused to heed warnings, rather than facing up to failure and accepting the need to cut losses.

By Charles Whelan on 18/03/2021