Written evidence submitted by ADS and CBRN-UK




1.1  ADS is the trade association for the UK’s aerospace, defence, security, and space industries. ADS has more than 1,200 member companies, with over 95% of these companies identified as small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). Our sectors are vital to the UK’s economy, generating £30bn in value to the UK, including £47bn in exports, and supporting over a million jobs.


1.2  CBRN-UK is the Special Interest Group representing the UK industry’s chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) defence, security, and resilience industry, which operates as part of ADS. With around 50 members, CBRN-UK works to ensure that the UK’s CBRN industry can deliver the capabilities that the government, emergency responders, the military and Critical National Infrastructure operators need to manage and minimise the risk from biological incidents and other types of events. CBRN-UK also provides specialist advice to its partners in Government and the private sector, and acts as a ‘one stop shop’ for overseas buyers interested in UK capability.


1.3  Specialist capabilities offered by CBRN-UK members include the detection and identification of CBRN substances, monitoring of CBRN substances in the environment, personal protection equipment (PPE), medical countermeasures, training, and simulation solutions, and expert CBRN advice. These capabilities were demonstrated to great effect during the Ebola crisis where CBRN-UK members were awarded the Ebola Medal for Service - the first specific medal created by the UK Government to recognise individuals for their role in a humanitarian crisis and that acknowledged the highly dangerous environment that workers were required to enter.




2.1  Industry should be considered an integral part of the UK’s national resilience and emergency response planning. In this, the expertise within the CBRN-UK community must be better utilised in future.


2.2  As the UK begins to recover from the current crisis, CBRN-UK can assist with the safe return to work, including virus contamination control and mapping, training, and guidance on the use of PPE, and maintaining the UK’s national capabilities and expertise.


2.3  Responding to future CBRN events must be considered a holistic activity. It should bring together the whole of Government and draw on the expertise of the private sector (industry and academia) to prepare for a crisis, years in advance if necessary, through establishing and maintaining a sustainable surge capability and by advising on the response during crises.




3.1  The Government has been working to set up a new national track and trace capability for managing future outbreaks of coronavirus. Before the current crisis, some of our member companies were already conducting bio-surveillance projects combined with significant data management requirements that reported into groups such as SAGE. However, during the crisis there has been patchy engagement with industry, primarily only taking place under contract with bodies such as Dstl but not as a result of an urgent request for industry support. The UK already has a number of companies that have advanced virus contamination mapping capabilities and we would urge the Government to draw upon their support as it continues to refine its track and trace programme and encounters new challenges requiring resolution.


3.2  As the scientific evidence regarding coronavirus (including, but not limited to, virology, epidemiology, and pathogenesis) continues to evolve, we would urge the Government to engage with industry as well as academia on the latest findings. Most biological science and supply is conducted commercially and it would strengthen the UK’s ability to control the virus now, as well as to respond to future outbreaks, if a register of industry experts were to be created, drawing upon expertise from industry groups including CBRN-UK. Furthermore, while the Government has access to sources of information that are not available to the private sector as relates to future biosecurity risks, it should also draw upon industry’s insights when forming its assessments. Assessing future threats and risks is part of the DNA of the CBRN-UK members, since understanding the threat is key to then developing new products and services. CBRN-UK is therefore keen and well placed to contribute to work in this area.


3.3  Alongside the domestic response, the UK should also spearhead global efforts to strengthen the global regime of bio-surveillance, while recognising that nation states will continue to lead operational responses. This will likely be delivered by academia and by industry groups such as CBRN-UK to build up the capability, based on available data, to detect and fully understand new disease outbreaks in the very early stages. By fully utilising novel bio-surveillance methods such as social media and satellite data this would allow UK response plans to be developed in good time rather than contemporaneously. This activity could be coordinated by the UK’s new Joint Biosecurity Centre. Close collaboration between academia and industry will ensure that any such research is application-orientated and therefore supports UK export potential, by identifying if topics make sense from a solution delivery perspective.




4.1  There is a growing debate about the UK’s sovereign and onshore manufacturing capabilities in key areas of national need, for instance on the production of PPE, that has been evident long before the Covid-19 crisis. This links to wider questions about the resilience of UK supply chains and the reliance on supply from certain regions of the world. As the Government considers what sovereign capabilities it may require onshore in future it should first consider how dual sourcing in supply chain management could be used to mitigate second-order impacts from future pandemics and outbreaks of animal diseases such as foot-and-mouth. In addition, the predominant procurement model used in the UK by public bodies including the NHS focuses on the lowest cost available. This crisis provides an opportunity to review this approach and take better account of wider considerations relating to quality, resilience and sustainability by adopting a ‘full value procurement’ concept in place of ‘value for money’.


4.2  To build upon this point, it is undoubtedly challenging to pay for standing capability for an event that no one knows for certain will be required or envisions i.e. ‘Black Swan’ events such as pandemics. As supply requirements from Government has shifted increasingly towards Commercial Off the Shelf (COTS) and Modified COTS (MCOTS) solutions it has also moved away from stockpiling. Industry has therefore had to anticipate future requirements and develop equipment and manufacturing preparations accordingly to mitigate against this risk. We believe that it is now time to work with industry and groups such as CBRN-UK to develop a model for a sustainable mechanism to deliver needed capabilities in the case of future crises. In the aftermath of the Salisbury attack, the 2018 Biological Security Strategy talked about fostering such an approach but this must now be acted upon and groups including CBRN-UK are ready for that dialogue. This would prime the supply chain to maintain a guaranteed surge capability.


4.3  The Biological Security Strategy indicated that the UK “maintain(s) appropriate stockpiles of clinical countermeasures for diseases of concern”. However, PPE stockpiles drawn upon during the current crisis were inadequate and, in many cases, had expired. While it is not for industry to dictate what stocks are required, PPE with a longer shelf-life must become a technical and logistical development priority. Significant volumes of PPE are disposed of due to their expiry date, meaning investing in long-life PPE should be prioritised as part of domestic preparedness measures. Alternatively, new processes could be developed to create continually refreshed buffer capacity through drawdown and restock of emergency stockpiles. This could be built into an integrated programme with onshore manufacturing, where old stock suitably refreshed and re-lifed could be offered to global aid programmes. This would offer a route to sustain greater capacity in domestic capabilities. Whichever route is taken, industry can provide valuable expertise on advanced inventory management to Government.




5.1  Pandemics have long been considered a top-tier risk by the UK Government. However, while they are widely recognised as a high impact event, they have typically been viewed as a low probability one. COVID-19 has turned the threat of a pandemic from a ‘black swan’ event to a ‘white swan’ one. The lessons learnt from this provides an opportunity for the UK Government to strengthen national resilience and emergency response mechanisms in partnership with industry. Multiple questions about the UK’s national capabilities, supply chain resilience, the supply of and training on the use of PPE, detection and identification capability, and the UK’s virus contamination mapping should now be addressed.


5.2  COVID-19 has demonstrated the importance of industry’s support to the national response, but it has also highlighted that greater engagement with industry would have yielded a more effective response. From supporting with the manufacturing of ventilators to the ramping up of domestic PPE production, industry has worked closely with the Government to meet national requirements. We believe, however, that the Government could have more effectively utilised industry’s contribution to strengthen the UK’s domestic preparedness against, and response to, major biosecurity events such as the current crisis. The Government should ensure that it engages with collective resilience organisations such as CBRN-UK in future years in advance, as well as during a crisis event, to help build up the UK’s resilience and emergency response mechanisms. This will include leveraging industry’s investment in R&D and co-investment by industry and Government, as well as industrial production capacity.


5.3  Industry and academia must be incorporated into the national resilience structure, to offer input on long-term horizon scanning elements on emerging threats and on new mitigation technologies and procedures. R&D in biosecurity needs to look beyond current capabilities – much of the recent Government-sponsored R&D has typically been focussed on relatively near-term solutions based upon COTS, MCOTS, and the integration of capability, rather than fundamental research to enhance capability. Tapping industrial expertise in groups such as CBRN-UK would enable the UK to develop a more effective national resilience plan.


5.4  To respond to the current crisis, the Government has had to reallocate significant numbers of civil servants internally to build up capacity in new areas (for instance, with supply chain management or with the new Joint Biosecurity Centre). This inevitably will have knock-on effects on the delivery of public services in other areas. There is a huge pool of experts in industry that have relevant skills to offer and we believe that models for industry secondments, such as that operated by the Home Office’s Joint Security and Resilience Centre (JSaRC) should be explored to meet future urgent requirements. In this, the UK could also study how countries such as Singapore and Switzerland enable industry experts to seamlessly support calls for action by Government, often acting as specialist reservists for public service.


5.5  As the UK considers how to enhance its resilience against future CBRN events (whether in the form of a pandemic, state-sponsored attack, or a terrorist attack) consideration must be given to investing in the UK’s biological and chemical scanning and detection capabilities at crowded spaces, airports and major transport systems, including underground networks. The UK already has an array of advanced detection capabilities for narcotics and weapons, but current chemical and biological screening capabilities are neither as detailed nor as developed and prevalent. Dependent upon the requirement and associated risk assessment, key sites could be fitted with monitoring devices and control mechanisms to mitigate risk.


5.6  COVID-19 has highlighted that there is a lack of awareness about the basic use, discard, and waste management of PPE, particularly in comparison to the widely promoted guidance on hand washing. While there is extensive guidance available from Public Health England and other infection control bodies on the proper use of PPE, this has not seemingly been applied consistently in the UK’s response to COVID-19. More broadly, there is a lack of knowledge in the public about the proper wearing and removal of face masks. The UK should study how countries such as Singapore have developed a national educational programme on face masks and work with partners such as CBRN-UK to adopt a similar community-based approach if it is deemed necessary.




6.1  Industry has wholeheartedly supported the Government’s Fusion Doctrine, which promotes a coherent whole-of-Government approach to fostering national security and prosperity. During the current crisis it has been observed that some Government departments have implemented the Fusion Doctrine as part of their work (in particular, the Ministry of Defence, Home Office and Cabinet Office) but other departments have not given the same consideration as to how they can contribute, including the Department for Health and Social Care. It is vital that departments are encouraged to talk to each other, share best practice, draw upon collective resources, and adopt common approaches to solving problems. To ensure that the Fusion Doctrine is followed more widely in response to public health crises we believe that the Civil Contingencies Secretariat and the Emergency Planning College should conduct a lessons-learnt exercise, with industry as deliberate participants, as the current crisis abates.


6.2  The UK’s 2018 Biological Security Strategy states that the Government will seek to work with industry to understand, prevent, detect, and respond to biological risks. In this, CBRN-UK has considerable expertise and capabilities to support the UK with its response to, and recovery from, the COVID-19 pandemic. From providing expert guidance on virus contamination mapping and bio-surveillance to specialist training on the use, discard, and waste management of PPE to enable a safe return to work, our industry can support the UK’s response to the current crisis and future pandemics that may arise. CBRN-UK members could also provide expertise on designing Covid-secure workplaces so that UK businesses and the economy at large can more quickly return to work. Closer interaction by the Government with CBRN-UK could help to alleviate the burden on agencies such as the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Public Health England (PHE) in responding to the many requests for guidance by the wider private sector.


6.3  The response to CBRN events, including biological ones, must be a holistic activity. If one link of the chain of capabilities that range from policy and doctrine through to equipment supply and stockpiles to education and training fails, an integrated response cannot be provided. To avoid this risk, the Government must strengthen its engagement with industry at an early stage, and then before, during and after an event, including with expert groups such as CBRN-UK. The Government should also conduct a regular national stocktake, in collaboration with industry bodies such as CBRN-UK, of its emergency equipment, civil training and national production capabilities to verify our national resilience against future threats.




7.1  CBRN-UK makes an important contribution to the UK’s national security and prosperity and our members would welcome the opportunity to work more fully with Government across a wide area of capabilities and expertise to support the national response to the current crisis. However, while the current crisis has presented unprecedent challenges for the UK, it will not be the last. From doctrine to capabilities to education, the Government must work closer with expert groups such as CBRN-UK to strengthen national resilience and emergency response mechanisms against future biological events.


19 June 2020