Have we lost the art of resilience planning, initiative and balance?

by Philip Ingram MBE

Sitting watching the debates that are going on in the press about reopening schools, about whose fault the spread of the COVID-19 disease in our care homes is, I am saddened by two things.  The first is the desire to find fault at any cost, and that cost is a lack of balance, I will explore that further below.  The second is the blinkered lemming image I get when I hear some of the debates and again, I will explore that below.

Let me put out my store at the start.  Throughout a large part of my military career I was a military planner, much, not all from an intelligence perspective.  I would say I was a successful planner as I deployed to execute those plans and can now go on holiday to many of those places I was deployed to. I have been formally commended for my efforts in two of the planning tasks.

I have deployed on a lot of operations and the success or otherwise of what we have delivered has never been through what government ministers have done or not.  I have never had all of the equipment I have needed and often not the right equipment, I have taken pay cuts to be sent to war zones, I have been landed in war zones with inadequate weapons, with no ammunition, with inadequate “PPE”. We made it work, and we made it work because of sound planning and a resilient must do approach to the tasks in hand.  I have seen politicians in war zones, but they have never had responsibility for success or otherwise, that has been down to commanders; the military management and the attitude of those under their command, the workers.

I have made enquiries with schools to see if they had pandemic planning in their resilience plans or if Academy CEOs or Head Teachers had even talked about it, as it was the top threat in Local Resilience Planning guides for at least 10 years.  I checked with 2 different school and academy governors and they saw nothing in their schools. I spoke to someone responsible for business planning and operations for 14 schools and academies and they admitted they hadn’t considered anything from Local Resilience Forums. One has to ask what they base their contingency planning on and how they justify funding, if it is not against a recognised risk?  However, government guidance in 2014 ordered schools to take account of a potential pandemic and have it as part of their emergency plans: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/emergencies-and-severe-weather-schools-and-early-years-settings

They also had no plans for expanding capacity to meet social distancing and hadn’t considered talking to local authorities about joint planning, nor had they pre-prepared any educational output to be delivered remotely, they were expecting ministers to deliver this, yet their salary was greater than the education minister or any of the Education Department civil servants.  In 10 minutes yesterday, I identified 7 facilities suitable to be used as extra classrooms within 500 meters of a local school. Their use has never been considered.

Simply put they had failed to consider an issue Government had been telling them about for years and given clear instructions to do, whilst drawing a salary for a post all about delivering planning and operations. Identifying and securing additional capacity for schools is relatively straight forward and the digitisation of learning is something that in today’s society should be routine. Neither would be costly and in pandemic times would likely be funded by central government. It just takes local initiative to identify the plan.

I look at the issues around our care homes and see some that through their own management decisions implemented pandemic control plans including lockdown very successfully and have had no cases of COVID-19. I have seen others who haven’t thought it through, or done any planning, yet they are happy to make profits for their limited companies whilst there is no threat yet blame a system they keep at arm’s length until it is invoicing time.  A pandemic plan for care homes is simple but requires the owners to have thought of it, and to implement it.

When looking at the press coverage and seen Head Teachers, Care Home owners and the like interviewed, many journalists are happy to elicit criticism aimed at others by them but not explore failings in their planning and preparation and question their accountability. The interviews have been unbalanced thereby delivering unbalanced reporting.

The NHS implemented a highly successful plan with the Nightingale Hospitals and a massive expanse of procurement to supply items to others who have never been part of the NHS supply chain. Every hospital had their own plans, and all seem to have worked. Why have our Schools, Academies and Care Homes not had plans and why do they think it is not the responsibility of their highly paid leaders? What has our press not called out these leaders in communities for their failings?

The time has come for the right people to be held to account and resilience plans, their understanding and leaders engagement to be part of any inspection regime providing assessments of our schools, academies, our care homes and more. The time has come for those happy to take pay and reward for leadership positions to relearn planning and the use of initiative, and for our commentators to bring back balance.

**Updated 13 Jun 2020 with a link and reference to: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/emergencies-and-severe-weather-schools-and-early-years-settings **