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Pandemic has exposed UK is vulnerable to variety of extreme risks without adequate Government planning

COVID-19 has exposed the UK’s risk management system as deficient and too inflexible to provide the protection the nation needs for the most serious risks facing it, according to the House of Lords Risk Assessment and Risk Planning Committee.


In its report, Preparing for Extreme Risks: Building a Resilient Society, published today, the committee has concluded that the UK must be better at anticipating, preparing for and responding to a range of challenging risk scenarios, including those which it has never experienced before.

The report emphasises that the Government’s current strategy of centralised and opaque risk assessment and risk management, which fails to make adequate preparations, has left the UK vulnerable.

The committee has called on the Government to not default to secrecy within the risk assessment process, which has hampered preparedness, as society’s front-line responders, including Local Resilience Forums, local government, volunteer groups and businesses and industry all struggle to access the information they need to ensure the country’s safety. The report recommends the Government be more transparent, with its risk assessment replaced by a more dynamic, data driven output, directly linked to preparation, mitigation and response, and that instead of a simple risk assessment, the UK should produce a ‘National Security Risk and Resilience Assessment’. This should place more emphasis on preparedness and resilience and welcome a higher degree of expert scrutiny.

Much of the Government's time and resources are focused on responding to crises and emergencies, from flooding to terrorist attacks. Despite the fact that prevention is significantly cheaper than response, the government has a disincentive to invest against possible risks. A premium must be placed on possessing the competence, capacity and skills to manage crises. Risk plans must be frequently tested, challenged and scrutinised, and spending should, where possible, be directed towards preparing for, preventing and mitigating disaster, according to the report.

The committee draws particular attention to the fact that the risks being faced are changing. This includes technological advances, failure of ageing critical infrastructure such as nuclear power stations, dams and bridges, and a reliance on electricity, integrated smart systems and the internet. The report also explores events such as a solar storms - which could render smart technologies on which much of society relies inoperable for weeks, as well as risks associated with biological security, bioterror and bio-error.

Importantly, the committee emphasises that the conclusions and recommendations made within the report should be considered in light of risks posed by climate change. Many of the risks facing the UK are likely to increase both in magnitude and frequency as a result of climate change, and risk assessment cannot be conducted without acknowledging this fact. Climate change is an ever more significant risk facing the UK and action to address it needs to be undertaken rapidly and as a priority.

Other recommendations in the report include:

  • The Government should establish an Office for Preparedness and Resilience headed by a newly created post of Government Chief Risk Officer. This body would be responsible for producing independent analysis of UK preparedness. It would produce assessments of UK resilience, set resilience standards, and conduct audits of UK preparedness.
  • The Government should act under a presumption of publication, and should publish the content of the Official-Sensitive National Security Risk Assessment except where there is a direct national security risk.
  • Parliament should take a more active role in scrutinising preparedness for risk. A yearly debate on the National Security Risk Assessment (NSRA) should be held by both Houses of Parliament.
  • The Government should better engage industry and businesses when developing risk assessments to ensure that it is aware of private sector capabilities and that business and industry know their role in responding to crises.
  • The Government should commit to a biennial publication of a brochure on risk preparedness. This brochure should inform the public on general resilience principles, outline how individuals could improve their preparedness, provide guidance on what to do in an emergency, and signpost further information on resilience.

Lord Arbuthnot, Chair of the House of Lords Risk Assessment and Risk Planning Committee said:

“Before Covid struck, we as a country knew that a pandemic was among the top risks that we faced. The Government had been advised that in the event of a Coronavirus pandemic, the country would suffer up to 100 deaths. Given that more than 140,000 people have now died in the UK, it is clear that we needed to re-examine our system of assessing and planning for extreme risks.

“Pandemics are not the only risks we face. Since the start of our inquiry, the UK has faced severe supply chain disruption, storms, terrorist attacks and threats to the nation’s fuel supply. The Government must be able to identify lessons from all crises quickly and ensure it can translate them into real change.

"The Government's risk management system defaults to a secretive and centralised approach that withholds safety critical information from those who need it - shielding it from full scrutiny and challenge. The Government must open up the risk management system and welcome expert consultation from a wider variety of sources, as well as see our people as an essential building block.

“Our inquiry has concluded that the UK must adopt a whole of society approach to resilience, one which emphasises the important role played by all sections of society in preparing for, adapting to and recovering from the effects of risk. Risk and resilience are not solely the concern of central Government policymakers, and since they have the capacity to alter the lives of everyone in the country, everyone needs to be involved in shaping the response to the risks that we face.”

To request an embargoed copy of the report please email

For other media requests or for further information please contact Aneela Mahmood, at or on 0207 219 8286.

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