Closure of Covid taskforce leads to ‘brain drain’ ahead of winter

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The government’s COVID taskforce, which makes key decisions on lockdown, PPE and emergency planning, is facing a ‘brain drain’ as the country prepares for a potentially brutal winter, Granthshala can reveal.

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The department is to be disbanded in the spring – despite ongoing concerns about COVID – prompting an influx of talent to head to the door.

Sources in Whitehall have warned that the imminent departure of at least two senior decision-makers is expected, due to a ‘hollow’ from within the team.


“We have some great talent,” said a source, who plans to exit. “He has the most experience of past ups and downs in hospitalizations and infections. We are losing that institutional knowledge.”

The task force, set up in the spring of 2020, is advising the government on the level of COVID-19 cases and flu the country can face before restrictions are imposed. It is instrumental in providing guidance for autumn and winter planning, and for reopening or closing parts of the economy.

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The situation within the workforce has drawn parallels with the dissolution of the Brexit department, when key executives quit their jobs ahead of the crucial deadline. As important dates approached, many of the most experienced employees moved on to take on new roles. About 40 percent of employees left the department in 2019, according to the Whitehall Monitor by think tank The Institute for Government.

Taking on so-called crisis management roles, such as in the Brexit department, can be an effective route to promotion within the civil service, as it shows an ability to deal with operational and political pressures.

Now, the deadline for dismantling the COVID taskforce has created a similar impact. According to a second source familiar with the situation, it is undergoing “beginning of brain drain”. The source said that several senior and mid-ranking taskforce members have already given notices that they are moving to new roles in different parts of the civil service.

The group has 14 roles for the most senior staff, with several layers of civil servants beneath them, dealing with areas from testing to PPE provision, with new restrictions likely this winter.

A UK government spokesman did not deny that plans had been drawn up to disband the workforce in the spring of next year.

He added: “The COVID-19 task force coordinates the government’s response to the pandemic and will continue to do so for as long as necessary. We will continue to ensure that the task force has the people it needs to do its important work. “

The government declined to confirm the exact number of civil servants within the workforce, but insiders suggested around 100–120 members based on its own calculations, including some assistance from outside management consultants.

“The risk is that it gets hollow in the winter, and you’re left with a kind of skeletal remains until spring,” said Alex Thomas, government program director at the Institute for Government. If the winter goes well and Covid-19 admits to some hospitals, then this approach with the taskforce is fine, Mr. Thomas said.

However, if it is a bad winter of COVID infections that triggers the crisis, “you have a low-powered central team. We can come back to where we were in the initial phase of the pandemic,” he said.

“One of the things that affected the response to COVID in the first few months was the absence of this central brokerage function,” he said. Mr Thomas said a task force has been set up to combine scientific and economic analysis to make recommendations to the Prime Minister and other ministers.

According to sources in Whitehall, the taskforce’s input has proved crucial in terms of effectively using the data to work out the viral impact of reopening the economy. His recommendations fed into the autumn and winter plan set out by Prime Minister Boris Johnson earlier this week. The same sources are concerned that a number of restrictions may have to be put in place over the winter in response to pressure on the NHS.

The government’s winter plan states that, based on modelling, “scenarios that place the NHS under extreme and unsustainable pressure are plausible”. It added that “the government should continue to monitor the data and prepare for contingencies”.

Still, people familiar with how the taskforce operates are concerned about its ability to monitor and advise on key data if it loses key team members who have built effective relationships with top officials and ministers.

“It is important for the public to understand, as suggested by the Prime Minister, that this could be a tough winter. But that is why when the pandemic is not over, we do not need to start brain drain, Said a Whitehall insider. “You need to assemble your Covid Avengers.”

Deadline, shared by sources, and seen in an email Granthshala, indicate that the workforce will be disbanded in April 2022 after review in March. The group will share its relevant expertise by redeploying staff to the Civil Contingency Secretariat in other government departments and the Cabinet Office.

According to insiders, some employees have found themselves on the edge of burnout after months of working on war footing. Others feel they should get new roles, or they risk getting caught up in hasty reappointment attempts that could damage their careers.

“The moment you set the end for the project, the best people tend to walk away because they can see the writing on the wall. If you can see the date coming up, you’re a fool not to start looking at other options.” Will be,” said Mr. Thomas.


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