Background to report

The COVID-19 pandemic has stress-tested the government’s ability to deal with unforeseen events and potential shocks. Government has often acted at unprecedented speed to respond to a virus which has caused dramatic disruption to people’s lives, public service provision and society as a whole. Government had to continue to deliver essential public services, while reprioritising resources to deliver its response to the COVID-19 pandemic and supporting staff to work from home. In its response, government has had to streamline decision-making, work across departments and public bodies and use a range of delivery structures.

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Departments will need to reflect on the lessons learned to ensure that they capitalise on the benefits and opportunities these new ways of working have brought.

Scope of the report

This report draws out learning from the reports that we have published to date, as well as other work we have published that covered the COVID-19 pandemic.

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.

We will continue to draw out learning from the government’s response to the pandemic from our future work.

“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.”

Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO