Dominic Cummings called the Department of Health a “smoking ruin” on 17 March over its handling of the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, and called for an investigation into “what went wrong and why”, in a speech to MPs.
Mr Cummings, former chief advisor to the Prime Minister before his tumultuous exit from Downing Street in November last year, was giving evidence to MPs in the Science and Technology Committee about the creation of a new government agency, the Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA).
But Cummings also told the committee that a “very, very hard look” was needed at what went wrong during the pandemic. He criticized the Health Department’s procurement of PPE and blamed “horrific Whitehall bureaucracy” for the problems.
It was this inefficiency, he revealed, that led him and chief scientific advisor Sir Patrick Vallence to lobby the Prime Minister to take the vaccine rollout out of the hands of the Health Department.
“Patrick Vallance, the cabinet secretary, me and some others said: ‘Obviously we should take this out of the Department of Health, obviously we should create a separate taskforce and obviously we have to empower that taskforce directly with the authority of the prime minister’”, he told the committee.
“It’s not coincidental that the vaccine programme worked the way it did. It’s not coincidental that to do that we had to take it out of the Department of Health,” he continued.
In response to Cumming’s speech, Health Secretary Matt Hancock played down the accusations, describing the vaccine rollout as “a huge team effort” and that the government, the vaccine taskforce and the NHS were all involved in its success.
Explaining the origin of the idea for ARIA to the committee, Mr Cummings said that Boris Johnson asked him to take up his position a week before he started, asking if he could “come in to Downing Street to try and help sort out the huge Brexit nightmare?”.
Cummings said he agreed on the condition that the PM was serious about Brexit, that Science funding would be doubled and an ARIA-like agency created, and that he would support changes to the “disaster zone” of Whitehall and the Cabinet Office.
Dominic Cummings, a previously influential but now outspoken former Advisor-in-Chief to Boris Johnson, was fired after a power struggle last November in a media spectacle that saw him walk out of No.10 with a cardboard box in hand.
Picture Credit: Tim Dennell