Background to the report

The UK government’s position is that, in general, private sector companies should be allowed to fail as part of the efficient working of markets and the economy, and that direct government intervention in the private sector is a last resort. But in some circumstances a company failure could expose the government, taxpayers or service users to disproportionate levels of risk, and the government may decide that intervention is necessary.

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In our audit work we have examined many examples of government interventions to support companies in distress across various sectors, including the unprecedented interventions in banks during the 2008 financial crisis. These examples show that government interventions in distressed companies: involve complex decision-making at speed; require access at short notice to specialised skills that are not widely held across government; can be very costly in the short term; and may take a long time to exit.

Scope of report

This short lessons learned report sets out the wider government context to interventions, including providing factual updates on the government’s evolving approach to national resilience and risk management. It covers:

  • roles, responsibilities, and principles
  • monitoring, resilience, and preparedness
  • distress intervention, specialist capabilities, and learning

You can also read our good practice guide which will be of interest to officials in government departments and other bodies such as regulators who have interests, responsibilities and accountabilities regarding the resilience of key companies and the risks to taxpayers or citizens.