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Report: Defence’s Contribution to the UK’s Pandemic Response

25 March 2021

The Defence Committee publishes its report on the UK Armed Forces’ response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Report findings

The Committee found that defence played a critical role in assisting the Government's response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, contributing capacity, personnel, and, most significantly, a different mindset which was more focussed on objectives rather than process.

The Committee calls on the Government to explicitly and tangibly recognise the vital contribution made by uniformed and civilian defence personnel to the UK's pandemic response.

The report finds that there was a lack of knowledge across government as to how defence can assist in emergencies.

The Committee states that, although the skills and experience of defence should be well-utilised in times of crises, defence must not be used as a means of backfilling for inadequate preparation and resourcing by the civilian bodies which have a statutory responsibility to meet crises.

The Government must strengthen civil crisis response capabilities to ensure defence does not become the 'responder of first resort'.

Additionally, the report calls on the Government to use defence capabilities and resources to distribute and administer vaccinations at home and abroad.

Chair’s comment

Chair of the Defence Committee, Tobias Ellwood MP, said:

"The last year has been difficult for all of us, particularly for those fighting on the frontline in our battle against coronavirus.

"Despite the darkness of the past year, we have seen countless acts of heroism and resilience in the face of adversity.

"Our Armed Forces rose to the challenge of coronavirus, demonstrating outstanding strength and stoicism.

"The integral efforts of all key workers, including those of the Armed Forces, must be explicitly and materially recognised by the Government.

"Our Forces offer an unparalleled wealth of experience and knowledge; an invaluable resource that was poorly used and underutilised.

"However, there was a widespread lack of clarity across Government as to how to access support, as well as a lack of understanding as to what the Ministry of Defence can offer.

"This confusion only added to the disorganisation that characterised the Government's immediate response to the outbreak of coronavirus.

"The Armed Forces are no substitute for preparedness in other Government departments. They cannot be used as the sole contingency plan for times of acute crises.

"As the dust settles, the Government must undertake a no-holds-barred self-examination, and take steps to extend the treasure trove of expertise within the Forces to civilian authorities, to ensure that all branches of Government are prepared to respond to pandemics.

"This year we've seen the importance of boots on the ground. The Government's recent decision to reduce troop numbers should concern us all, potentially leaving us ill-prepared for the next major national security crisis."

Further information

Image: OGL (Open Government License)