Soldiers from 1 Royal Anglian Regiment assisting with the build of the new NHS Nightingale Hospital in London (Picture: MOD).
Politics

Coronavirus: MPs Question If Government Has Made 'Full Use' Of Military Experts

A report by the Public Accounts Committee has criticised the Government's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Soldiers from 1 Royal Anglian Regiment assisting with the build of the new NHS Nightingale Hospital in London (Picture: MOD).

A group of MPs have voiced concern over whether the Government has "made full use" of experts, including those in the Armed Forces, during the coronavirus outbreak.

In a scathing report, the Commons' Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said the Government's failure to plan for the economic impact of a pandemic like COVID-19 was "astonishing".

Regarding the military, the report said there "seem to be lessons that could still be learned from the Armed Forces so that decision making structures are swifter and better informed".

The Cabinet Office defended its use of military experts, saying the Army has been "highly involved" in the planning of operations, working at the centre of Government across procurement, logistics and at local level.

Labour MP Meg Hillier, chair of the PAC, said: "Pandemic planning is the bread and butter of Government risk planning, but we learn it was treated solely as a health issue, with no planning for the economic impacts.

“This meant that the economic strategy was of necessity rushed and reactive, initially a one-size fits all response that’s leaving people - and whole sectors of the economy - behind.

"Government needs to take honest stock now, learning, and rapidly changing course where necessary.

"We need reassurance that there is serious thinking behind how to manage a second spike.

"This is not some kind of competition - this is our nation’s lives and livelihoods at stake."

Last month, a report written by a former No. 10 Special Adviser to Boris Johnson, said the Government needs to learn from the work of military planners during the coronavirus outbreak. 

The study, published by think tank Policy Exchange, suggested military planning teams could be used more by the Government in the future.

The military has been carrying out coronavirus tests across the country during the pandemic (Picture: MOD).

The Armed Forces have played a key role in the response to the pandemic, including helping to set up and run mobile testing units, as well as delivering personal protective equipment (PPE) to the NHS.

In June, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told Forces News there are "lessons to be learned" from the pandemic.

In the PAC's report, it also said the Government's economic reaction to COVID-19 was rushed and has left whole sectors behind.

The committee said lack of preparedness could have a "long-term" impact on the economy.

It said the Treasury waited until mid-March, days before the lockdown, before deciding on the economic support schemes it would put in place.

The PAC urged the Government to "learn lessons" from its response and "ensure it doesn’t repeat its mistakes again in the event of a second spike in infections – or another novel disease outbreak".

A Government spokesman said: "As the public would expect, we regularly test our pandemic plans, allowing us to rapidly respond to this unprecedented crisis and protect the NHS.

"It was clear that coronavirus would affect all areas of the country, that’s why we immediately put in place an unprecedented initial economic support package for jobs and business worth £160 billion.

"The next stage in our economic response will make a further £30 billion available to ensure all areas of the UK bounce back.

"We’re providing over £100 million to support children to learn at home and a £1 billion COVID catch up fund will directly tackle the impact of lost teaching time, as schools and colleges welcome children back in September.

"In addition, we’ve committed almost £28 billion to local areas to support councils, businesses and communities."

Cover image: Soldiers help to build London's NHS Nightingale facility (Picture: MOD).