We cannot wait until the public inquiry reports to start learning lessons from the pandemic – especially not when it is not due to start until 2022
The government likes to claim that it “is absolutely committed to transparency and public accountability in all it does”.
But as is so often the case, what they do and what they say are very different.
Ironically Michael Gove’s Cabinet Office, which has overall responsibility for transparency and accountability in government, is one of the worst-performing departments on basic measures like answering Freedom of Information requests.
So bad is the problem that the Open Government Partnership, of which the UK was a founding member, has placed us under review because of failures to improve transparency and accountability.
Their failings in procurement have led to billions being spent with little oversight, with taxpayers’ money all too often seeming to line the pockets of personal or political associates of Tory ministers or advisers.
But the most serious cost to our country of this lack of openness is not financial or reputational, it is the price we have paid in lost lives.
Giving evidence in parliament, Boris Johnson‘s former closest adviser, Dominic Cummings, made some very serious allegations about failures within government – and in particular the Department for Health and Social Care. He said thousands of lives had been unnecessarily lost as a consequence of these mistakes.
As the health secretary, Matt Hancock, warned MPs that the Indian variant was spreading across the country, he said: “Of course it is right that we learn from everything that we understand and everything that we see and all the scientific advances. We should do that all the way through. This idea that we should wait for an inquiry in order to learn is wrong.”
We agree we cannot wait until the public inquiry reports to start learning lessons from the Covid-19 pandemic – especially not when it is not due to start until 2022 because the government refuse to bring forward the date.
Which makes it all the more baffling that his department is refusing to publish the internal “lessons learned” review it has carried out.
We know this review exists. The prime minister’s spokesperson admitted the Department of Health had carried out an internal review into how it handled the Covid pandemic.
The review is said to have looked at operational, “nuts and bolts” issues – exactly the sort of issues we can learn lessons from right away.
That is why Labour tabled an amendment calling for the publication of the review during the Queen’s speech debates, so we could learn the lessons in our efforts to contain variants and ensure that we are better prepared for the future.
But it was voted down by the Tories. Once again, their actions simply did not live up to their words.
If the government truly wants to show they are serious about learning lessons from their mistakes during this pandemic then they can do so with one simple step: publish the review immediately.
Angela Rayner is deputy leader of the Labour Party