Former National Audit Office Director and Coronadiary author David Finlay says Chief Scientific Adviser diary entries underline Ministers lacked decision making skills.
In his book Coronadiary: 100 days that changed our lives and three skills government had been told to improve former National Audit Office Director David Finlay reveals a startling finding.
Ministers had had no collective training in skills which would help them make the complex decisions they were responsible for during the pandemic.
Also, Finlay’s research identified that the government had been warned before the pandemic to improve its skills in planning, making use of data and managing risks, skills which were central to making appropriate decisions in response to the COVID threat.
Finlay asserts that Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance’s diary extracts read out at the start of phase two of the official COVID inquiry endorse a picture that the failure to give Ministers a common training in decision making skills led to a haphazard approach to responding to the dangers posed by the COVID-19 virus.
In Finlay’s view “Sir Patrick’s description of “chaos as usual” in Downing Street, “flip-flopping” between possible courses of action and Sir Patrick’s comment that “Ministers try to make the science give the answers rather than making the decisions” all indicate a lack of a disciplined approach to making complex decisions.”
Finlay continues “The lack of formal training for Ministers in planning for emergencies, assessing data, weighing up the pros and cons of alternative strategies and the trade-offs they may involve, and identifying and managing risk, inevitably leads to sub-optimal actions when Ministers are under pressure to make complex decisions.
“You don’t expect doctors or pilots to look after the public without suitable training and qualifications. But we put our trust in Ministers to make decisions affecting our health, livelihoods and education in a stressful environment without any training in how to make such momentous decisions.”
Finlay underlines the difficult issues Ministers faced “Ministers were not simply rubber stamping clear scientific advice , “following the science” as Ministers so often liked to tell us. Very often Ministers were dealing with significant uncertainties due to a lack of data (for example, how fast the virus was spreading in the early stages) or differing opinions (how effective face masks were) or simply large unknowns (for example, whether the virus would develop new variants). They also had to weigh up trade-offs and priorities (such as how to balance protecting health with the wish to minimise disruption to businesses and schools).
Finlay has a strong message “Ministers were trying to develop their COVID response through WhatsApp discussions rather than a disciplined approach to making complex decisions. Ministers bring their own personal backgrounds to their work in government but the lack of training means they don’t have a common skill set in analysing complex situations to arrive at effective decisions. We need to act now to give Ministers appropriate training for the responsibilities they bear.”