The Week

The Week 8 December 2023

Charlotte Pickles

Has everyone stocked up on torches and FM radios? That was the message from the Deputy PM in his annual resilience statement this week…though a quick straw poll of the Reform team suggests they did not get the message (zero of either) 😬.

The Statement is part of the Government's (welcome) overhaul of civil contingencies planning. Dowden told the House “the risks we face are more numerous, more complex and are evolving more rapidly than ever before”, and that a “‘whole of society approach’ to resilience" is needed that “reflects the fact that everybody has their part to play”. Hence the torches. Also volunteering (there will be a hub on a new resilience website to provide a 'one stop shop' for people to volunteer during a crisis — sensible given the public's response during COVID).

Alongside the Statement, the Government published its Resilience Framework implementation update, covering progress over the past year. It's actually really quite encouraging, with lots of important activity which will improve the UK's understanding of risk, enable better planning and therefore preparedness, and ensure we can better respond when a crisis hits.

A new Head of Resilience, in a new Resilience Directorate, is driving a strategic cross-government approach. A new sub-Committee of the National Security Council on Resilience is overseeing the Government's preparedness programme — as recommended by Reform in 'A State of Preparedness: how government can build resilience to civil contingencies' — and a Catastrophic Impact Programme has been established “to review our processes and preparedness for the highest impact risks in the NSRA”. Pandemic preparedness sits under this, and we're told it includes preparing for “all five routes of disease transmission: respiratory, vector (mosquitoes, ticks, sandflies, etc.), contact/touch, oral (food/water), and sexual/blood”.

In addition, having overhauled the National Risk Register to make it significantly more transparent and therefore open to scrutiny — very important, and another Reform recommendation — the Government will be setting up a “systematic expert advisory programme” to enable “constructive challenge” on departmental risk assessments. Also called for by Reform.

Work is also under way to strengthen Local Resilience Forums (again, recommended by Reform — to date, these crucial bodies, responsible for local coordination and crisis response have been poorly informed, resourced and integrated into the national response) and a new UK Resilience Academy will be launched to set standards and provide leadership.

All of this is extremely important, and provided it is embedded and acted on, will help to avoid the mistakes and gaps that meant we weren't well prepared for COVID. And thank goodness, because the Covid Inquiry is doing a pretty miserable job of identifying key lessons — and in any event, as we've said before, will report too late to be a serious contributor to strengthening our resilience for the next crisis.

So while the former PM was being grilled by KC Keith this week, the Government was getting on with actually improving our civil contingencies capabilities. Or to put it another way, while the Inquiry is performatively litigating the last war — and doing a questionable job of that — the Government is preparing for the next.

Our read of the week:

This week our friends at the Resolution Foundation published a major report ‘Ending Stagnation’, to cap off their two-year inquiry into the state of Britain’s economy. The report is packed with stats and graphs charting, in forensic detail, the reasons for our lacklustre economic performance since the financial crisis, which they say has left the average worker £10,700 worse off than they would’ve been with pre-2008 rates of wage growth.

This, coupled with higher levels of income inequality, leaves us in the unenviable position of being poorer and less financially resilient than many of our peers, including France, Germany, Canada and the Netherlands.

The good news? According to the Resolution Foundation and others, this means the UK has a lot of potential for “catch-up” growth. By harnessing our strengths across a broad range of service sectors, like higher education, culture, tech and the life sciences; really focusing on the productivity of our second cities; and raising public investment to the OECD average; there is a route in sight to a more prosperous economy.