Dr Luke Evans is a member of the Health Select Committee, and is MP for Bosworth.
When bidding to host the 2012 Olympics, the then Labour Government understood that building a legacy for the games was in many ways as important as the Olympics themselves.
Previous host cities had been left with debt and crumbling infrastructure that had plagued them for years after their games had taken place, the vision was clear that London 2012 had to be a stepping stone rather than an end in itself.
It’s a great testimony to the foresight and determination of both the New Labour and coalition Governments that London was different. The Olympic stadium is now a great venue for football, the park is beautiful and the Olympic village first occupied by athletes is providing decent homes to one of the historically most deprived areas of the capital.
The 2012 Olympic organisers realised early on: legacy planning is paramount. Permanent venues for all sports would quickly become white elephants, and so they made the very best use of heritage and temporary structures.
I’ve been thinking a lot about legacy during this terrible Coronavirus outbreak.
Of course the circumstances are completely different. The 2012 Olympics were a celebration of the best of Britain that had been planned for seven years. Coronavirus has come as a bolt out of the blue bringing with it misery and pain instead of joy.
But they do have similarities too. Both are hugely costly, both ultimately finite, and both challenge the way that things have always been done previously.
In London’s case, a commitment to meaningful legacy was unprecedented, to ensure there is a purpose to those lives lost we need a similar commitment to ensuring we keep the best of this awful period too.
The pandemic has resulted in a revolution instead of the usual evolution in all walks of society and how it operates.
In my own profession of medicine, the change made over such a short period of time has been dramatic and needed for many years. With an NHS that is still the world’s largest purchaser of fax machines, the step change to telemedicine and paperless prescriptions and letters is more than welcome. We need to make sure the best of those changes are embedded in our systems permanently once this outbreak has passed.
The NHS has swiftly built capacity and, whilst in some areas that may not be needed in the long term, the growth in testing capacity and other infrastructure needs to be harnessed for the future, along with processes to ensure flexibility, is central to what we do in years to come. In the Health Select Committee, I have been able to ask about positive changes that health leaders have seen, and all commented that there have been changes that had been tried for years, but now have happened in days – i.e: ten cancer treatment teams all working in one site.
Outside of health, there have been huge benefits through the increased use of technology for home working, not least the immediate impact on our environment. It’s imperative that those aren’t lost when this period is over.
And in getting to know our neighbours and community spirit we are seeing a very real embodiment of what David Cameron called ‘the Big Society’ in action. If there is one societal lesson we must learn out of all of this, it’s to ensure that this spirit isn’t lost.
Crisis can create opportunity and, with a pandemic that has touched every part of our society, and in turn every aspect of Government, with no sector or policy untouched, there are opportunities a plenty.
Just like the London Olympics, we must have a clear plan to harness those opportunities that Coronavirus has brought to us, as well as mitigate the future threats.
One way of doing that is through the creation of a time limited Department of Virus Legacy, much like DExEU has done for Brexit, which is able to ensure opportunities are grasped. A department which could cut across government and the country to harness the positive changes that have happened in the face of devastation; ensure innovation is not lost and that we do not simply return to pre-virus normality; and to plan to amplify good changes that have occurred.
We must have a proactive programme that should emulate the effort put into Brexit over the next three years, to ensure we are fighting fit for the future.
There are many horrific parts to the Coronavirus pandemic: lives and loved ones lost, and livelihoods destroyed. In the years to come we have to ensure that all of that isn’t in vain, the planning for that has to start now.