UK resilience: the need for action is now as the winds of crises gather momentum
- Published: Friday, 30 September 2022 08:28
As the UK waits for the launch of the long-promised National Resilience Strategy, Peter Power calls for the appointment of a Government Minister for Resilience, supported by a National Resilience Committee.
‘A crisis is an opportunity riding a dangerous wind’is an old Chinese proverb. Let us hope there will be opportunities to gain experience and adapt as I fear there are dangerous winds now worsening across our society where a combination of socioeconomic hits are likely to reveal significant gaps in UK resilience.
Various barometers already point to a vulnerable society, including the escalating use of food banks, a worsening sense of energy insecurity (we could soon experience ‘brownouts’ as the UK power framework struggles to maintain a constant flow), and fears about food insecurity that could easily lead to panic buying. So many dials are already entering the red zone. So how is the UK coping?
I have no doubt that our (relatively new) Government would wish it otherwise, but with so many conflicting demands on resources, time, and money, it is too easy to put anything that hasn’t quite reached tornado proportions into the pending tray, despite some important reviews on our resilience that have revealed a troubling picture of UK preparedness.
I believe that the private sector, which underpins a vast amount of UK critical infrastructure, has a lot to offer the Government, but whilst topics such as ‘risk appetite’ might occasionally appear in Civil Service narrative, I doubt if such words translate into meaningful action in Whitehall.
To make things worse, at the time of writing the pound has shrunk to a record low . Unfortunately, weak currencies raise dollar-priced goods, raising import costs and fuelling inflation further, exacerbating the cost-of-living crisis even further. Listening to phone-in callers on the radio, reading newspapers, or just watching news broadcasts, you get an increasing sense of citizen rage that cannot be ignored. So where does this leave organisational resilience (OR)?
Taking a broader focus, the WEF has quite rightly pointed out that organisational resilience is not a response to risk per se (which can often be quantified), but rather to uncertainty (which most often cannot) and perhaps therein lies the problem: the Government is still uncertain what the culmination of rising barometers and spinning dials will actually look like when it all erupts, knowing that our historic reaction to national dramas in the past has depended very much on certainty.
UK leaders should, therefore, adapt their approach to pan national organisational resilience to prepare us for a host of economic, social, geopolitical, technological and health shocks that have the capacity to inflict different levels of disruption, most likely simultaneously, across our whole society.
I was therefore concerned to read notes from the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy, Oral evidence 18 July 2022: Critical national infrastructure and climate adaptation. Margaret Beckett MP (The Chair). This states that: “Many of our witnesses have lamented the lack of join-up across government…we were very disappointed and rather shocked that the Cabinet Office decided that it would not send a Minister to give evidence on this topic”.
Added to which, we cannot ignore the profound knock-on impacts of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, nor his most recent sabre-rattling rhetoric about the possible use of nuclear weapons.
Elsewhere in the world, Australia has a population less than half the size of the UK and already has a Minister to run their National Recovery and Resilience Agency. In anticipation of future events, they have also just appointed a new ‘Coordinator for Emergency Management’. The case for at least a ‘Minister for Resilience’, supported by a ‘National Resilience Committee’ in the UK Government is increasingly obvious.
The Government, and in in some cases industry, needs to move the topic of uncertainty into the forefront of organisational strategy and implementation. In a world where terms like ‘black swan’ and ‘one in one hundred years’ events have lost all significance; recent lessons have accelerated the importance of replacing rhetoric and verbal commitments on organisational resilience with tangible action.
As the winds of crises gather momentum, the opportunities to improve UK resilience are already there, but the dangers of inaction remain all too obvious. Even when, at last, the Government publishes a National Resilience Strategy, that is hopefully effective, we will still need to move from intention to implementation in quick time.
A crisis is indeed an opportunity riding a dangerous wind.
Peter Power FIRM FBCI BA is Vice Chairman of the Resilience Association. Contact him at email@example.com