National Resilience Strategy

The RSE has responded to the UK Government’s plans to develop a National Resilience Strategy for the UK. The response has been prepared by the Building National Resilience working group of the RSE’s Post-Covid-19 Futures Commission. The response highlights the following key points:

A national risk register and a national risk assessment, under continuous review, with long-term foresighting is required. These need to cover the aggregate and interdependent risk to the UK, as only by understanding the totality of the collective risk can we gauge the national risk.

Everybody and every organisation has a role to play in helping to support national resilience. A significant step forward is needed to help all parts of society to understand risks. As part of this, the government needs to communicate and discuss national risks openly and honestly with the public. Too often, national risk registers and assessments are restricted to specialists and are not the subject of national debate. This calls for transparency and widespread public debate about risk identification and risk management so that the public is well informed and can play its part in supporting resilience.

While it is impossible to predict and mitigate all causes of potential failure, decision-makers need to consciously decide on the desirable level of resilience. Public input and buy-in is crucial to help decision determine desired levels of resilience, and in balancing potential trade-offs between different options. A key question that needs to be addressed is whether there is an unavoidable trade-off between economic efficiency and resilience.

The impacts of Covid-19 have been felt disproportionately by certain parts of society, and the pandemic has highlighted existing structural inequalities. Policies that support resilience need to be proactively weighted towards marginalised individuals and communities. Preventative approaches and early intervention should be adopted wherever possible to support individuals, particularly the most vulnerable.

The UK Government needs to set out how it plans to evaluate the effectiveness of the strategy. The Cabinet Office should consider the creation of a set of key performance measures for assessing progress towards greater resilience, and the RSE response sets out some options for assisting with this.

It is crucial that the Devolved Administrations are involved in the development and implementation of the UK National Resilience Strategy given the interplay of reserved and devolved responsibilities.

Paper summary

The RSE supports the development of the strategy to strengthen the UK’s resilience. We have been giving extensive consideration to resilience as part of our Post-Covid-19 Futures Commission. Our Building National Resilience workstream has been considering:

  • What a resilient nation looks like;
  • the features that underpin resilience;
  • and how resilience can be built up and developed.

We would welcome the opportunity to explore with the Cabinet Office how the RSE can contribute further to the engagement process on the strategy.

A national risk register and a national risk assessment, under continuous review, with long-term foresighting is required. These need to cover the aggregate and interdependent risk to the UK. Only by understanding the totality of the collective risk can we gauge the national risk. Everybody and every organisation has a role to play in supporting resilience in order to build systemic resilience. A significant step forward is needed to help all parts of society to understand risks and to enable them to support national resilience. The strategy needs to support a culture of preparedness where resilience is proactively considered at all scales in the face of both known and unknown risks.

Government needs to communicate and discuss national risks openly and honestly with the public. Too often, national risk registers and assessments are restricted to specialists and are not the subject of national debate. This calls for transparency and widespread public debate about risk identification and risk management so that the public is well informed and can play its part in supporting resilience.

The impacts of Covid-19 have been felt disproportionately by certain parts of society, and the pandemic has highlighted existing structural inequalities. Policies that support resilience need to be proactively weighted towards marginalised individuals and communities. Preventative approaches and early intervention should be adopted wherever possible to support individuals, particularly the most vulnerable.

While it is impossible to predict and mitigate all causes of potential failure, it is important for decision-makers to consciously decide on the desirable level of resilience. Public input and buy-in is crucial to decision making processes aimed at determining desired levels of resilience and in balancing potential trade-offs between different options. A key question which needs to be addressed is whether there is an unavoidable trade-off between economic efficiency and resilience. If this is true, which seems likely in many sectors of the economy, then building a resilient nation will need different economic objectives from those currently being pursued across the developed world.

Significantly, it is not clear how the Cabinet Office plans to evaluate the effectiveness or assess the success of the strategy. Without embedding within the strategy an approach for measuring resilience, government and others will be unable to assess the effectiveness of the strategy nor be able to modify approaches based on evaluative evidence. The Cabinet Office should consider the creation of a set of key performance measures for assessing progress towards greater resilience.

The call for evidence recognises the importance of partnership working between the UK Government and the Devolved Administrations on resilience. However, the plans are silent on how this is to be operationalised. It is crucial that the Devolved Administrations are involved in the development and implementation of the National Resilience Strategy given the interplay of reserved and devolved responsibilities.

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