An important parliamentary committee has condemned the UK Government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, with significant implications for the logistics sector.
The Public Accounts Committee reviewed the whole of Government Response to COVID-19 and found that the Cabinet Office should review its “crisis command structures” to ensure any future or long-term decisions are “properly informed and coordinated effectively” throughout the government.
The committee’s report highlighted “fundamental flaws” in central procurement, particularly with regards PPE, and the local distribution of vital goods and equipment.
The committee said despite a pandemic being identified as the top non-malicious risk, the government had failed to stock up on PPE in advance.
Although the Cabinet Office claimed that PPE was being stockpiled centrally, the committee said that it mattered “very little” if there was enough PPE centrally if it was not getting to those in need locally.
At the start of the pandemic, the Army was drafted in to assist with the distribution of vital supplies and equipment as existing supply chains were not fit for purpose. Army planning also played a vital role in the rapid construction of temporary hospitals across the UK.
Tim Whittlestone, the chief medical officer at the 300 bed Bristol Nightingale Hospital, told the BMJ that military input was something else entirely.
“They are bringing the logistical support for [construction] to happen at incredible speed. I’m used to working in the NHS where to build a hospital is 15 years of planning. This has been done in 15 days.”
He likens the military support they have had to a professional service. “They will take your wish list and provide you with a solution. What I have found fascinating is that I think of the army as people on the battlefield, but in order to provide that frontline service there is a whole organisation of materials, logistics, and programme management—and that’s the bit we’re tapping into.”
Working with business
The Public Accounts Committee report has asked the Cabinet Office to review the lessons learnt in relation to the procurement and distribution of vital PPE. It has until the 1st of September to report back to the committee.
Ahead of the expected resurgence of coronavirus cases over the winter, when more people are inside and the virus can spread more easily, the government must learn the lessons of how to deliver and distribute essential equipment to where it was needed in good time.
The committee also called for greater involvement with businesses regarding their needs. It said the Treasury should engage with key sectors and industries to “develop bespoke support measures aimed at helping those businesses through the ongoing effects of the pandemic”.