Lessons from the success of the UK’s vaccine procurement should be applied to other areas of government spending, according to MPs.
In a report on the UK response to the pandemic MPs said Covid had resulted in more than 150,000 deaths in the UK and nearly five million worldwide, but UK deaths in 2020 were “significantly worse” than other countries due to factors including delayed lockdowns and failures in test and trace.
However the report, by the Health and Social Care and Science and Technology committees, praised the work of the UK Vaccine Taskforce.
“The procurement model deployed by the Vaccine Taskforce of making decisions at risk, outside conventional procurement procedures, proved highly effective,” said the report. “Lessons from this success should be applied to other areas of government procurement.”
The UK Vaccine Taskforce, which was named overall winner in the CIPS Excellence in Procurement Awards 2021, was set up in April 2020. Headed by venture capitalist Kate Bingham, it was made up of life sciences professionals, civil servants and scientists.
It was based outside the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, with Bingham reporting directly to the prime minister.
The report said former government advisor Dominic Cummings had said it was “inconceivable we can leave it in the DH [DHSC]”, which MPs said was “based on concerns over the performance of the department on procurement during February and March”.
“The Vaccine Taskforce model of forming flexible teams outside of the usual Whitehall administration, but working with it, and comprising people with outside expertise working within it, is a successful one,” said the report.
“It should be considered for delivering other government priorities. However, it is concerning to hear that the Vaccine Taskforce model is being eroded by incorporation into ‘the normal entropy process of Whitehall’, and this erosion should be arrested.”
MPs said the Vaccine Taskforce made crucial strategic judgements, including procuring firm orders with a range of potential vaccine suppliers “long before they had been established as clinically safe and effective”.
The taskforce also insisted that orders would be fulfilled before other countries that might subsequently place orders.
MPs said the “success of the vaccine programme – one of the most effective in Europe and, for a country of our size one of the most effective in the world – shows that positive as well as negative lessons should be taken from our handling of the pandemic”.
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