Former Cabinet Secretary Mark Sedwill has criticised the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, as he broke his silence since leaving the role.
The ex-head of the civil service said there were ‘genuine question’ about whether the UK could have been ‘better prepared’ for the pandemic.
Lord Sedwill, who stepped down last month, has revealed the government did ‘not have the exact measures in place’ to deal with such an outbreak – asking ‘were the right decisions taken at the right time?’.
He also said he was ‘troubled’ about attacks on the civil service and its integrity, and described Dominic Cummings’ lockdown journey to County Durham as a ‘mistake’.
Lord Sedwill, 55, who left with a pay-off of nearly £250,000 amid reports of a power struggle with Mr Cummings, made the comments in his first broadcast interview since leaving the position.
Speaking to the BBC, he said: ‘Although we had exercised and prepared for pandemic threats, we didn’t have in place the exact measures, and we hadn’t rehearsed the exact measures’ for the challenge Covid-19 presented.
Lord Sedwill, who stepped down from his role as Cabinet secretary last month, has revealed the government did ‘not have the exact measures in place’ to deal with such an outbreak
Lord Sedwill, 55, left his top role in September, with a pay-off of nearly £250,000, amid reports of a power struggle with the Boris Johnson’s (left) top aide Dominic Cummings (right). Lord Sedwill also said he was ‘troubled’ about attacks on the civil service and its integrity, and described Mr Cummings’ lockdown journey to County Durham as a ‘mistake’.
‘I think there is a genuine question about whether we could have been better prepared in the first place and that is obviously a very legitimate challenge.’
However Lord Sedwill, who himself contracted coronavirus, praised the response to the pandemic.
He said he was ‘really proud of a great deal’ that was achieved, highlight the Nightingale Hospital project – which saw field hospitals built in large venues across the country including London’s ExCel centre.
But he also highlighted the actions of Mr Cummings, who drove to County Durham during lockdown after his wife developed Covid-19 symptoms, as a ‘difficult moment for the government’ and it ‘undermined’ the narrative about following the rules.
Lord Sedwill said: ‘It was a mistake – whether everyone should quit every time they make a mistake, I don’t think is right.’
On attacks on the civil service, he said they had been ‘unfair’ because ‘mostly you can’t really answer back.’
Lord Sedwill also described anonymous briefings against senior civil servants as ‘damaging’.
Lord Sedwill said he was ‘really proud of a great deal’ that was achieved, highlight the Nightingale Hospital project – which saw field hospitals built in large venues across the country including London’s ExCel centre
He said: ‘It is damaging to good governance and those responsible should recognise the damage they’re doing, even if they’re indulging themselves in some short-term tactical ploy.’
Lord Sedwill stepped down from his dual role as Cabinet Secretary and national security adviser in September following a reported power struggle with Mr Cummings.
At the time of the announcement, civil service unions accused No10 of orchestrating a series of ‘corrosive and cowardly’ briefings against Sir Mark – who Mr Cummings is said to have seen as a ‘roadblock’ to a Whitehall shake-up.
Speaking at the time, Lord Sedwill, who has more than 30 years of Government service, hit out at ‘unpleasant’ off-the-record briefings and ‘sniping’ as he addressed MPs.
He called them a ‘regrettable feature of modern politics’. He also denied ‘resigning’, saying he had agreed with Boris Johnson to step down.
Former civil service chief Lord Kerslake in September accused Mr Johnson of trying to make Sir Mark the ‘fall guy’ for the Government’s failures in handling the pandemic.
And former cabinet secretary Lord O’Donnell suggested the Prime Minister wanted to surround himself with ‘yes men’.
David Frost, the Premier’s chief Brexit negotiator, succeeded Lord Sedwill as national security adviser at the end of August.
Lord Sedwill is continuing to be involved in the preparations for the UK taking on the presidency of the G7 next year.