Skip to main content

Government failure to learn pandemic lessons will come at high cost to generations

23 March 2022

In its report today the Public Accounts Committee says the “UK government was underprepared for a pandemic like COVID-19” which has “exposed limitations in how the government manages risks” and also a “failure to learn”, from both simulation exercises and actual incidents.

To learn from COVID-19 and be better prepared for the next major crisis, government must “introduce robust central leadership, accountability and oversight for cross-cutting risks”. It must also “reduce variability in departments’ risk management capabilities, their understanding of government’s risk tolerance, and their interpretation and application of government’s risk management guidance”.

In evidence to the inquiry government officials recognised its “chequered history in communicating risks to the public and acknowledged that the government’s messaging on risks should be more balanced, accessible to non-experts and lend itself to practical actions”. Greater public awareness of government’s planning for major risks would “help avoid complacency, focus the minds of the officials tasked with risk planning, help to ensure the public is more aware of what is being done to protect them from harm and highlight opportunities for public engagement, awareness raising and behavioural change.”

Chair's comments

Dame Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said:

“The PAC is very concerned about the Government’s approach to risk management, which seems to betray a resistance to constructive challenge and unwillingness to learn from, for example, areas of the private sector that have a mature risk culture.

On its current path, the Government will be similarly unprepared for the ‘next major crisis’ and is also failing to take on the important lessons in crisis and risk communication with the public - and internationally, with other countries - which will be crucial in dealing with it.

Too much is left to individual departments. When faced with funding pressures the long-term concerns are too often sacrificed for short-term priorities. We need Whitehall to hold the ring on risk management and coordinate departments.”

Further information

Image: Pixabay