Colin Brazier: 'Due to Covid' is an excuse for organisations to give shoddy service

Human nature being what it is, you can see how it might be easier to say ‘due to Covid’, rather than ‘can’t be bothered’

My Twitter inbox lit up this morning like the power grid at full time after last night’s England match.

The response was prompted by a simple question: Have you got any examples of organisations using the phrase ‘Due to Covid’ as an excuse for shoddy service.

I gave some examples of my own.

The call centres which admit they are taking far longer to answer our calls ‘due to covid’. The banks closing high street branches ‘due to Covid’. The universities keeping lectures online ‘due to covid’.

Of course, it was a legitimate excuse, once. At the height of the pandemic. But now the suspicion is growing that it’s being used as a cover-story for incompetence, slothfulness, indifference, cost-cutting and profit-taking.

I’d like to be able to say that it’s a problem that only affects the self-serving monopolies of the public sector more than the private sector, but that’s not true.

Call centres run by mobile phone companies or firms that sell insurance. “We are experiencing higher than expected call volumes at the moment….due to covid”.

One of my Twitter responders, Mark, told me his call centre was flat out. I’m sure that’s true. Some staff have been forced from their offices by a government dictat that was only reversed this week. But you can see why businesses, which want to save cash by persuading more customers to use low-cost websites rather than labour intensive call handlers, might lack an incentive to restore pre-covid levels of service.

Same with banks. They want to push you online, where banking’s more profitable for them. I can’t prove they’re closing expensive bricks and mortar branches ‘Due To Covid’ opportunistically, but it’s not such a leap of imagination is it?

And then there are universities. Not strictly private sector, nor quite a monopoly provider, but boy, some of them behaving a little like the robber barons old.

Freedom Day may be less than a fortnight away, but many unis plan to keep lectures online from September and beyond. Any chance of those debt-ridden students getting even a partial refund? Not a chance – due to covid.

When – hallelujah – you find a real person to talk to, it can be disappointing. Anthony Holman tweeted to me his experience of retailers refusing to give him a paper til receipt ‘due to covid’. Human nature being what it is, you can see how it might be easier to say ‘due to covid’, rather than ‘can’t be bothered’.

But the overwhelming story told by my Twitter feed today was about the public sector. It’s a malady affecting large and small. From the parish council that’s closed the only public toilets for miles around ‘due to covid’, to massive agencies of state, like the DVLA and HMRC.

One friend emailed to tell me about his daughter denied science lessons at school ‘due to covid’ and another about her two-week old baby who the GP would only see ‘over the phone’.

Dental appointments scrapped, council planning visits cancelled, benefits delayed. Due to, you know the drill.

Part of the problem is that we can see which organisations, labouring under the same covid conditions, have stepped up. The big supermarkets being perhaps the best example.

And not all excuses are bogus. One builder complained to me today about the cost of materials and delays in their arrival. But that’s a global problem as, increasingly, is inflation.

But we’ve been here before. When the Euro was introduced, retailers didn’t round DOWN their prices. After a shock to oil supplies has subsided, the price of fuel on the forecourts stays high.

We’re not daft. We can discriminate between a legitimate response to an actual crisis and those who are taking advantage of US the consumers – due to Covid.