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Brexit Festival: Here’s What Else The £29m Could Have Paid For

Sara C Nelson
·Senior Editor, HuffPost UK
·4-min read

As the world scrabbles to adapt to life in a pandemic, Rishi Sunak has confirmed in his spending review that a cool £29m has been set aside for a so-called Festival of Brexit.

First announced by then-prime minister Theresa May in 2018, the festival – intended to mark Brexit as a moment of “national renewal” and to “celebrate our nation’s diversity and talent” – was given the go-ahead by Boris Johnson last year.

Now temporarily renamed “Festival UK 2022”, organisers of the “once-in-generation celebration” say the project could be “one big act or 10 million tiny acts” and “might last a day or a year”.

The festival has long been a subject of ridicule, with critics claiming it is a massive waste of taxpayers’ money.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak poses with a red briefcase outside his office in Downing Street in London, in March  (Photo: Toby Melville / Reuters)
Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak poses with a red briefcase outside his office in Downing Street in London, in March (Photo: Toby Melville / Reuters)

Far be it from anyone to detract from the sentiment of celebrating the country’s continued endurance under exceptionally trying circumstances, but there are at least one or two areas we can think of that might benefit from that amount of cash.

Coronavirus vaccinations

Researchers suggest the Oxford vaccine could be relatively cheap to produce, with some reports indicating it could be about £3 per dose.

AstraZeneca said it will not sell it for a profit, so it can be available to all countries.

Pfizer/BioNTech is also making its vaccine available not-for-profit during the pandemic.

According to reports, the Moderna vaccine could cost about 38 US dollars (£28) per dose, and the Pfizer candidate could cost around 20 US dollars (£15).

By this rationale, £29m could buy:

9.6 million doses of the Oxford vaccine (two are required for each vaccination, meaning this would innocculate 4.8million individuals)

1.9 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine (suitable for 950,000 people)

Just over one million doses of the Moderna vaccine (500,000 people)

School meals

The government spends around £20m to provide school meals for a week. Government funding allows £2.30 per meal, a figure which has not increased in several years, despite rising food prices.

So £29m would fund more than 12 million of those meals.

The free school meals policy was introduced for all children from reception through to year two in state schools in England in September 2014 in a bid to improve nutrition and academic standards.

Footballer Marcus Rashford this year drew widespread praise for highlighting the issue of child food poverty and his campaign resulted in the government back-tracking to announce free meals would be provided to disadvantaged children over the Christmas holidays.

The England footballer was also recently awarded an MBE after forcing a government U-turn on free school meal vouchers.

Ventilators

Back in May, during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, the costs for such equipment rocketed, with the market price for one particular mechanical model increasing from £21,700 to £77,100 in a single week.

At the lower end, £29m would buy 1,336 machines.

Full mechanical ventilation, requiring a Covid-19 positive patient to be intubated and for air to be pushed into the lungs, rather than being sucked in by the action of the diaphragm is now considered a last resort, with doctors now using a variety of interventions to help patients breathe, though often in conjunction with a ventilator.

A report by the National Audit Office (NAO) published in September revealed the government had spent £569 million on ventilators since the start of the pandemic in a bid to meet its target of 30,000 extra machines.

Coronavirus funding for local authorities

Local authorities have had to grapple with supporting businesses and the economy during exceptional circumstances this year – not least during central government-enforced lockdowns.

Councils have been at the very forefront of tackling the pandemic, from supplying PPE to care homes to feeding vulnerable families and finding rough sleepers safe accommodation. This has cost them – a lot.

At the same time, they have suffered a huge loss in income from a drop in business rates, parking, nursery fees and council tax as the financial impact of the national lockdown hit the public.

Earlier this year cash-strapped councils warned they would go bankrupt as a result of the pandemic and accused the government of having broken its promise to “do whatever it takes” to support them.

On Tuesday local authorities in Lancashire made a demand of £20m in government funding to cover a three-week period of tier 3 restrictions before the whole of England went into lockdown.

The leaders of all 15 authorities have signed a joint letter to the prime minister’s chief strategic adviser, Sir Ed Lister, outlining “serious concerns” over the “apparent disregard” for an agreement reached in mid-October which secured an extra £30 million to cope with the tier 3 measures.

Earlier this month, Labour-run Croydon Council announced it had filed a Section 114 notice - effectively declaring bankruptcy – citing “severe ongoing financial challenges” and reporting a debt of £1.5bn.

A decade of Tory austerity is being blamed for the huge, spiralling local government funding crisis, which has been pushed over the edge by Covid-19.

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This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.