I am increasingly being asked whether or not there should be a public inquiry into the handling of the COVID19 pandemic. I have consistently agreed there should. Ministers convene inquiries and they are rare. They look at what has happened, why it happened and who was to blame. Crucially its findings may help to prevent something happening again. Whether it’s the shortage of PPE, the too little too late lockdowns or the failure of test and trace there’s enough evidence to warrant an inquiry
The question then is not whether there should be a public inquiry but when. It is true that preparing for a public inquiry would be a distraction to Ministers and officials who frankly should be spending all their time tackling the virus. There is also the question of how long a public inquiry would take – the average time is three years. That obviously would be too late to influence on Government actions happening now.
That does not mean difficult questions are not being asked. A number of major select committees including the powerful Public Accounts Committee are conducting investigations. The Chairs of the Health and Science and Technology Committees have each begun parliamentary inquiries. Although they are set to report in the New Year if recommendations emerge sooner they can then inform decisions.
We owe it to the families of those who lost loved ones and everyone else who has been affected to get answers. For now, Ministers need to get a grip, but the question is when rather than whether a public inquiry should take place.