Last reviewed 26 November 2021

The UK’s spending watchdog has reviewed the actions the Government took to prepare for a pandemic such as Covid-19 and considered its general approach to risk management and emergency planning.

The National Audit Office (NAO) 61-page report, The Government’s preparedness for the Covid-19 pandemic: lessons for Government on risk management, can be found here.

Noting that, by the end of July 2021, the estimated lifetime cost of measures announced as part of the Government’s response was £370 billion, the report argues that, like many other governments across the world, the UK’s was under-prepared for a pandemic such as Covid 19.

“This pandemic has exposed a vulnerability to whole-system emergencies — that is, emergencies that are so broad that they engage the entire system,” the NAO highlights. “Although the Government had plans for an influenza pandemic, it did not have detailed plans for many non-health consequences and some health consequences of a pandemic like Covid-19.”

It concludes that the pandemic has highlighted the need to strengthen the Government’s end-to-end risk management process to ensure that it addresses all significant risks, including interdependent and systemic risks.

This will require collaboration on risk identification and management not only across government departments and local authorities, but also with the private sector and internationally.

The Government has told the NAO that it intends to set up a catastrophic emergencies programme to focus on about 10 risks that may give rise to whole-system emergencies.

The Cabinet Office explained that this programme will seek to address the challenges posed by the breadth of impact of catastrophic emergencies and to provide support for departments’ planning for catastrophic risks.