Tony Blair: British government made an error trying to build its own app

Mass testing strategy for tracking Covid-19 is a ‘bridge to a vaccine’

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 06: Former Prime Minster Tony Blair speaks at a "Vote for a Final Say" rally about Brexit and the upcoming general election on December 6, 2019 in London, England. Former Prime ministers Tony Blair and John Major were joined by other political figures including Michael Heseltine, David Gauke and others calling to vote against the Conservative party in the upcoming general election. (Photo by Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images)
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Former British prime minister Tony Blair said the UK government erred in going it alone to build a coronavirus tracking app when technology companies offered them ready-made.

Having spent months arguing that the world would have to learn to function alongside the growing outbreak, Mr Blair said on Tuesday that the decision to build a platform from scratch – so the state could control the data – led to events that delayed the launch. Since its release last week, the app has been downloaded by about 12 million people, mainly in England and Wales. Scotland and Northern Ireland built their own apps.

Mr Blair told the GovTech Summit a regime of mass testing and digital identity cards would allow business, schools and international travel to get up and running again.

“We’re not going to eradicate the disease – you’re going to have to live with it,” he said. “People will trust the government if they think they know what they are doing.”

Mr Blair said the political class in Britain and beyond failed to grasp the real-world technology revolution that was under way. A paper issued on Tuesday by his Institute for Global Change said the pandemic showed how strong the state could be but it also exposed the gap between public expectations and the leadership’s capacity to deliver.

Countries have struggled to respond to the pandemic, and deep structural inequalities have been highlighted across state institutions and public services.

This is why the primary challenge for governments in the next decade is to reconfigure the state using technology to make better decisions, improve people’s lives and resolve crises more effectively, the paper said.

French Digital Minister Cedric O told the summit the sector was the most important lever to use to escape the crisis. “We know that in the transformation of the economy that digital will be even more important,” he said.