The UK Government was not as prepared for the pandemic as it could have been, and it lacked detailed contingency plans to manage the unfolding situation, according to a new report from the National Audit Office (NAO).

The report, Initial learning from the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, found that although there were many examples of 'unprecedented' national and local responses, the pandemic highlighted the importance of improving the resilience of key services and making better use of data. 

The NAO hopes the initial learning from its report will help the government evaluate its performance, capitalise on new ways of working and better manage potential future emergencies.

It sets out this learning across six themes: risk management; transparency and public trust; data and evidence; coordination and delivery models; supporting and protecting people; and financial and workforce pressures.

Pandemic exacerbated current inequalities

The report said that Covid-19 has stress-tested the government’s ability to deal with unforeseen events but being transparent, properly documenting decisions and managing conflicts of interest is essential if government is to maintain public trust that taxpayers’ money is being spent appropriately and fairly.

It added that Covid-19 has exacerbated existing health inequalities and long-term solutions are needed to reform the adult social care system, workforce shortages, issues caused by legacy IT systems, and the financial pressure felt by central and local government.

Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO, said: “Covid-19 has required government to respond to an exceptionally challenging and rapidly changing threat. There is much to learn from the successes and failures in government’s response and this report is our initial contribution to that process.

"Applying these lessons is not only important for the remaining phases of the current pandemic but should also help better prepare the UK for future emergencies.”