LONDON

A British parliamentary committee blasted the government’s economic response to the coronavirus pandemic on Thursday, saying it had “no plan,” and the measures it did take were “rushed” and “on the hoof.”

The cross-party Public Accounts Committee (PAC), the parliamentary spending watchdog, said the government’s pandemic planning had only taken into account health consequences and ignored the economy.

“We are astonished by the government’s failure to consider in advance how it might deal with the economic impacts of a pandemic,” the report said.

The PAC report said the lack of economic preparation led to whole sectors of the economy being left behind, which in turn could have long-term economic consequences.

The government must learn from its mistakes, the committee said, so that they are not repeated if there is a second spike.

Meg Hillier, the chair of the committee and former Labour minister, said: “Pandemic planning is the bread and butter of government risk planning, but we learn it was treated solely as a health issue, with no planning for the economic impacts.

“This meant that the economic strategy was of necessity rushed and reactive, initially a one-size-fits-all response that’s leaving people – and whole sectors of the economy – behind.

“A competent government does not run a country on the hoof, and it will not steer us through this global health and economic crisis that way.

“Government needs to take honest stock now, learning, and rapidly changing course where necessary. We need reassurance that there is serious thinking behind how to manage a second spike.”

Need for greater engagement

In 2016, the government carried out a pandemic simulation called Exercise Cygnus.

“Exercise Cygnus may have been health-focused but it is astounding that the government did not think about the potential impact on the economy, and that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy was not even aware of the exercise,” the report said.

It added that the first reported case of coronavirus in England was confirmed on Jan. 31, but the Treasury did not announce plans for significant funding to support businesses and citizens until March 11.

“The lack of prior thinking on the types of schemes that may be required led to a delay in implementation because the government needed to design the schemes from scratch,” the report said.

The report also called for greater engagement with businesses.

“The Treasury should engage with key sectors and industries, such as the aviation sector, to develop bespoke support measures aimed at helping those businesses through the ongoing effects of the pandemic,” it said.

A government spokesman said in response to the report: “As the public would expect, we regularly test our pandemic plans, allowing us to rapidly respond to this unprecedented crisis and protect the NHS.

“It was clear that coronavirus would affect all areas of the country, that’s why we immediately put in place an unprecedented initial economic support package for jobs and business worth £160bn,” the spokesman added.

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