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National Audit Office criticises Government over pandemic planning.


The government did not plan adequately for a threat on the scale of coronavirus, according to its spending watchdog, The National Audit Office (NAO), in a new report.

The NAO has also urged ministers to develop a strategy to prevent widening inequality created the pandemic.

However, the NAO says that the Government has been more successful with its efforts to deal with the crisis, on which £372bn had been spent up to March 2021, and claimed that the government had acted "quickly and decisively" throughout.

At the time of writing, almost 129,000 people in the UK diagnosed with coronavirus have died and more than 46m people have been given their first vaccination since the programme started in December 2020.

When coronavirus struck in February 2020, the NAO says that the government lacked plans for many areas of its response, including identifying who needed to shield and managing mass disruption to schooling.

The NAO added that there had been problems setting up employment support schemes for which as many as 2.9m people were not eligible.

The report said: "While the response to the pandemic has provided new learning, from both what has worked well and what has not worked well, it has also laid bare existing fault lines within society, such as the risk of widening inequalities, and within public service delivery and government itself."

The government has said it will review the report's recommendations closely and build on its commitment to data transparency and accountability.

Criticism came from former adviser to prime minister, Boris Johnson, Dominic Cummings, who said the government's pandemic planning had been "part disaster, part non-existent" and that "secrecy contributed greatly to the catastrophe.”

Before his appearance at a committee of MPs, Dominic Cummings said that the lack of public scrutiny was still affecting the response to the rise of new variants, such as the Delta variant first identified in India, as the UK continues its vaccination programme and takes major steps towards ending coronavirus restrictions.

The NAO said in its report that communications had not always been clear or timely, as guidance on the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) changed 30 times up to the end of July 2020.

The report also highlights the fact that there had not always been a clear audit trail to support decisions to award PPE contracts.

The NAO also warned that the hundreds of billions of pounds spent in response to the pandemic so far may have affect the long-term sustainability of the public finances.

UK government borrowing hit £303bn in the financial year 2020-21 - the highest amount, as a proportion of national income, since 1946.

NAO head, Gareth Davies, said: "Covid-19 has required government to respond to an exceptionally challenging and rapidly-changing threat. There is much to learn from the successes and failures in the government's response."

He added that lessons learned were "not only important for the remaining phases of the current pandemic, but should also help better prepare the UK for future emergencies.”

In response, the government said its approach throughout the pandemic had been "guided by data and the advice of scientific and medical experts.”

The government added that its public health response had brought together Public Health England, the Joint Biosecurity Centre and NHS Test and Trace under one leadership to increase capacity needed to handle a wide pandemic.

A spokesman said: "As new evidence emerged, we acted quickly and decisively to protect lives and livelihoods.

"We have committed to a full public independent inquiry to look at what lessons we can learn from our response to this unprecedented global challenge."