The Tories showed an “astonishing” failure to plan for the economic fallout from a pandemic, according to a group of MPs.
The Public Accounts Committee concluded that, instead, the government drew up plans “on the hoof” in mid-March. This was weeks after the first coronavirus case had been confirmed in Britain in January.
“Despite a pandemic having been one of the government’s top risks for years, it failed to consider specifically in advance how it might deal with the economic impacts of a national disease outbreak, said the PAC report.
This meant a “delay” in implementing an economic response because “the government needed to design the schemes from scratch”. PAC said this risked whole sections of the economy and individuals being “left behind”.
And despite schools closures being predicted, there was “no plan for how schools and pupils would be supported to continue to learn”.
The report asked why the Tories had no economic equivalent to Exercise Cygnus. This was a simulation of an international flu outbreak in 2016 that involved 950 emergency planning officials.
The operation led to recommendations for the government to implement, in order to be better prepared for an outbreak. It ignored them all.
One former government source told the Daily Telegraph newspaper that officials didn’t want to discuss what Cygnus had revealed because it was “terrifying”.
The PAC report says that some government ministries, including the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, were not even aware that Exercise Cygnus had taken place.
“It is astounding that the government did not think about the potential impact on the economy,” said the report.
PAC chair Meg Hillier MP said government planning for a pandemic had treated it as a health issue, with no thought about the economic impact. “We need reassurance that there is serious thinking behind how to manage a second spike,” she added.
In fact the government failed to take on board the health implications too.
It failed to stockpile vital stocks of PPE and other equipment needed, despite being advised to do so. And Boris Johnson resisted taking measures to stop the spread of the virus because he feared this would harm profits.
A separate report from PAC will look at the failings of the procurement and delivery of PPE. This follows a failure to stockpile enough equipment and local shortages. But Thursday’s report did note “fundamental flaws” in the process.
As the rate of infection in a majority of London boroughs rises, and several areas risk local lockdowns, the Tories continue to put lives at risk.
They aren’t only destroying lives by refusing to take measures that could keep people more safe from the virus. They are also leaving millions who have lost work without any support.
The virus crisis has shown up the horrors of a system that puts profit before people’s lives.