Lord O’Donnell – who served as cabinet secretary to Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron – has derided the Government’s response to the Pandemic.
He didn’t hold back his feelings saying there is lack of a “clear strategy” or “strong leadership”, during the Covid crisis.
His comments come as Matt Hancock denied there was a conflict of interest in Sir Patrick Vallance, who leads the Government’s expert advisory panel on vaccines, reportedly holding shares worth £600,000 in pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).
Additionally thousands of GPs and nurses are being forced to stay off work as they cannot get tested for Covid-19, England’s test-and-trace tsar, Dido Harding, has been warned.
Lord O’Donnell fears the Johnson’s Government has over-promised and under-delivered as it proved incapable of combating Covid-19 and leaving the country struggling throughout the spread of the disease in the UK, pushing the nation towards a second lockdown.
O’Donnell claims the Prime Minister “used up his political capital” soon after leaving hospital following his treatment for coronavirus – largely by supporting his senior aide Dominic Cummings following his apparent breach of lockdown rules. He argues “The Cummings debacle is where much of that capital was expended, and alongside other failings points to something we knew already: optics matter.”
Lord O’Donnell, a crossbench peer, will use a lecture to argue that the Government has failed on a number of levels.
He says: “We have to ask why a country with such reputed health and intelligence institutions has been so incapable of combating the Covid-19 pandemic.
“In 2019, we were ranked second in the world for pandemic preparedness by the Global Health Security Index.
“A litany of new rules and a steady stream of leaks reflects a government struggling to emerge from firefighting mode.
“Without a clear strategy, strong leadership and the use of good evidence from a range of human sciences, there is a risk that our efforts to emerge from this pandemic will be protracted and extremely costly.”
In the lecture on Thursday for the Institute for Fiscal Studies economic think tank, Lord O’Donnell will argue that the Government “lacked – and it still lacks – a policy framework that can properly assess the costs and benefits of different measures”, partly because medics have informed the strategy more than other branches of science.
Public Health England
He will claim there have been “political attempts” to blame Public Health England for the difficulties encountered in tackling the virus but suggested that ministers must also take responsibility.
“At this stage, we cannot reach firm conclusions about which parts of the government machine are responsible for the various operational failures in areas like testing and the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE),” he will say.
“On the testing side, it is hard to understand why PHE rejected the use of non-government laboratories. Other countries, like South Korea and Germany, successfully used a much more decentralised approach to testing.
“In addition to some operational failings, ministers have frequently broken one of the cardinal rules: they have over-promised and under-delivered.
“Talk of moonshots shows they have not learnt this lesson yet.
“That puts enormous pressure on the system and results in behaviours which ‘hit the target but miss the point’, like sending out lots of home tests which are not returned.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said he found out from a newspaper about UK chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance’s shares in a drug company contracted to develop a coronavirus vaccine for the Government.
But the Cabinet minister denied there was a conflict of interest in Sir Patrick, who leads the Government’s expert advisory panel on vaccines, reportedly holding shares worth £600,000 in pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).
According to The Telegraph, Sir Patrick holds a deferred bonus of 43,111 shares in the British multinational outfit from his time as president of the company.
But Mr Hancock said “any suggestion” the scientific adviser was “doing anything other than his level best to try and tackle this virus” was “wrong”.
Mr Hancock, asked on LBC radio when he discovered the news of Sir Patrick’s personal shareholding, said: “Well, I didn’t know about it until I read it in the newspapers.”
Pushed on whether he thought he should have been informed as Health Secretary, he replied: “No, not particularly.
“I think there are rules around this and it is important he abided by the rules.”
He added: “The thing about the vaccine is actually the Oxford vaccine is being developed by AstraZeneca, which is one of GlaxoSmithKline’s biggest competitors, so I think if you know Sir Patrick Vallance as I do, any suggestion that he is doing anything other than his level best to try and tackle this virus is wrong.”