37 billion is a difficult number to get your head around.
When it comes to government expenditure or the distances between stars, numbers very quickly get to a level where they start to lose any relatable meaning. When we’re talking about sums of money that are so far beyond your personal experience, it’s easy to lose sight of their sheer vastness.
So, let’s try to apply a bit of perspective to the amount of money that has been thrown at a non-functioning Covid track and trace system in the UK. Here are a few things that we could have been bought instead.
Aston Martin DB11s
No government should be buying sports cars but if they did, the upmarket Aston Martin DB11 would be a prime candidate.
A brand new DB11 would set you back a rather hefty £147,900 but we could have bought one for every single household in Sheffield and still had a few thousand of these high-end motors to give to old school-chums and random parasites.
Sure, people outside of Sheffield might have felt a bit miffed by this. It wouldn’t have been a vote winner, but it would have provided a massive boost to Aston Martin and their supply chain, created a great many jobs and achieved some measure of levelling-up.
It’s also worth noticing that nobody outside of Sheffield would have been any worse off.
It’s widely accepted that Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium is pretty damned nifty. It’s clearly an asset to Cardiff, Wales and the UK as a whole.
For £37 billion, we could have built 350 of these. If we had placed them in the 350 most populous towns and cities, the smallest place to get one would be Spalding in Lincolnshire with its population of 35,135.
Complete overkill, without doubt, but again, it would have created a stack of jobs and given a powerful boost to both the sports and construction industries.
Whilst it wouldn’t have been the greatest use of our money, we could have held the London Olympics four times over with Dido’s budget and still had a couple of billion left over for Cabinet coke binges. That’s quite a thought given how much was wasted on the 2012 games.
It costs £12.90 to plant a tree. We could have planted the best part of 3 billion of them (2,868,217,054 to be precise).
We may not have enough room for quite that much reforestation but we could certainly have made a fair old impression on those carbon targets.
We had enough money to design, build and launch 11 Hubble telescopes. And that’s ignoring economies of scale. That kind of investment, would at the very least, have made any notions of a high-tech, global Britain somewhat more plausible.
Based on the average budget of an episode of Doctor Who, £37 billion would be enough to fund 34,259 shows. We’d have been flooding the market to some extent but at least we’d have seen some return on our investment.
All of the above are palpably ridiculous suggestions and yet each and every one of them would have represented a significantly better use of our hard-earned astro-bucks. The sum is so vast that it can only be imagined what we could have achieved by investing it in education, research, infrastructure or the environment.
Let’s just finish with one immensely practical alternative …
A working track and trace system cost Ireland £773,000. That is 1/47,865th of the price of the Serco failure.
Had we taken the option of hiring competent IT professionals rather than “favoured suppliers” we could have had a fully working system and given every single person in the country £555. Lives would have been saved; lockdown would have been shortened; the economy would have been boosted, and we’d be in a far, far better place.
If you’re still unsure about how big a number 37 billion is, try counting up to 37 billion.