Avoiding unpleasant surprises

The Covid 19 Pandemic has highlighted the extent that Government has failed to plan for, mitigate or prevent unpleasant surprises. In planning terms both foreseeable but unlikely events such as the Corona Virus and events that were both foreseeable and predictable, such as the surge in Covid cases after students returned to University or the arrival of a vaccine, have happened and appear to have taken Government by surprise. Risk Management is the process of looking ahead to imagine what events could occur that create damage to an enterprise and then agreeing what, if anything, should be done to prevent or mitigate the impact of those events. While Government departments undoubtedly use this process the results of the process are opaque and are not either publicised or explained. Putting in place mitigation plans usually costs money and effort. Without external scrutiny and visibility there is a strong possibility that difficult decisions will deferred or avoided. Industries such as aviation and nuclear learnt from bitter experience of the need for robust external scrutiny of current and future business. This has led to excellent, if not always perfect, safety records. The undoubted failings exposed by the Covid 19 pandemic raises the opportunity for a radical change to the way that future plans and business are assessed for risk within Government. Most significantly it could permit the establishment of a process of public external scrutiny, which should result in a greater visibility of decisions made and thus a better understanding of the balance of choice between cost and risk. It should also ensure much greater accountability of both Ministers and Civil Servants for the consequences arising from risks coming to pass.




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