A State of preparedness: how government can build resilience to civil emergencies
The COVID-19 pandemic is the most serious civil emergency this country has faced in peacetime; unprecedented in its scale, complexity, and duration. Despite the fact that extensive central government machinery exists to anticipate, prepare for, and respond to civil emergencies, the pandemic has exposed critical shortcomings in preparedness and resilience.
This research highlights deficiencies in the way that government anticipates, prepares for and responds to emergencies, and puts forward a range of solutions to help the Government build long-term resilience.
The report makes the following recommendations:
- An independent Civil Contingencies Advisory Group comprising academics and professionals working in the field of risk management and resilience should be established. Its membership should comprise national and international experts who can form ‘Independent Challenge Groups’ to scrutinise the risk assessment process.
- To improve external scrutiny of the National Risk Assessment, Government should publish all parts of the Assessment that are not pertinent to national security.
- The Government should create a Minister for Resilience and Recovery. This should be a time-limited, Cabinet position, explicitly backed by the Prime Minister. The Minister would be responsible for ensuring that lessons from COVID-19 are identified and acted on across government.
- The Government should reinstate the National Security Council Threats, Hazards, Resilience and Contingencies Subcommittee, to be chaired by the newly created Minister. This would convene monthly to hold departmental Ministers to account for progress acting on lessons.
- In the long term, the Civil Contingencies Secretariat in the Cabinet Office should report to the Subcommittee on government capabilities to respond to risks in the National Risk Assessment, gaps that exist, and how they can be addressed. The Subcommittee should produce an action plan to address these, to be reviewed annually.
- The Government should ensure that every department has a named minister below Secretary-of-State level whose brief specifically includes resilience and civil contingencies.
- The Government should move a motion in Parliament to establish a Civil Contingencies Select Committee to strengthen parliamentary oversight of emergency planning and preparedness. This would improve coordination of parliamentary scrutiny and ensure that it is both proactive and cross-government in focus.
- When a SAGE is assembled, government should publish a list of members, research consulted and meeting minutes on a weekly basis to allow for ongoing scrutiny of the group’s composition, evidence base and discussion processes.