Red alarm clock
Author Wilfredor: Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.

There is going to be a public enquiry into the handling of the Covid pandemic chaired by Baroness Hallett. I was surprised to read that the Enquiry is collecting submissions on the Term of Reference (ToR). I am not the only one.

OK. This is not the actual enquiry, just the ToR. But, if they are not right, it might let the government off the hook. And guess who wrote the ToR? Boris Johnson!

The proposed ToR are available online along with a consultation page to submit your thoughts. These will be presented to the prime minister before the final ToR are issued.

I have read the documentation, and it looks to me like this could become a ‘no fault’ enquiry in which all are assumed to have acted in good faith. Mistakes are acknowledged, lessons are learned and changes proposed. But there is no attempt to address bigger issues. Do the Terms of Reference allow for investigation of these issues?

  1. Capacity. Government and local authorities and public health structures were inadequate for the task. A lot of the outsourcing and IT solutions that were promoted were an attempt to fill that gap. Where local structures did exist, as with the arrangements for delivering the vaccine, they proved their worth. Will the enquiry be able to recommend changes to these structures and the way they are funded?
  2. Strategy. Government responses shifted in response to a rapidly changing situation. But is there evidence for an overall strategy that was in place before the pandemic? What should such a strategy look like to ensure that the government is proactive and not reactive in the next pandemic?
  3. Capability. Everyone makes mistakes. But were some of these mistakes so egregious that government ministers and senior public officials should be held to account for the consequences of their actions?
  4. Corruption. Vast sums of public money were disbursed during the pandemic. In many cases the taxpayer was defrauded. Billions have been written off. Will the enquiry look at evidence of malfeasance in public office by those responsible for awarding contracts and handing out taxpayers money?

Those are my questions for the Public Enquiry. If you have any, make sure you get them in before midnight on Thursday.


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