Risk management profession could take 18 months to set up, ministers say

Boardman Review recommendation could take more than a year to progress, MPs are told
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By Jim Dunton

11 Nov 2021

The government has set out its timeframe for developing a civil service risk management profession in response to Nigel Boardman’s review of procurement during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic.

Establishing a “cross-department risk management profession with certification and training” was one of 28 recommendations made in Boardman’s review, which was published in May and accepted in full by prime minister Boris Johnson.

Boardman, who was a non-executive director at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy until earlier this year, said the new profession was needed because of a “clear need for stronger, more comprehensive and responsive contingency planning” exposed by Covid-19.

Treasury minutes published this week by parliament’s Public Accounts Committee show the government expects progress with establishing the new profession to take at least a year and probably longer.

The admission came after committee members said the government had yet to improve its approach to managing risk in light of the pandemic and demanded to know how and when the profession would be set up.

“Developments will be progressed by the Government Finance Function, working with Civil Service Human Resources, over the next 12-18 months,” the official response said.

The minutes also referred to an update on risk management given to PAC chair Dame Meg Hillier over the summer by civil service chief operating officer Alex Chisholm and government finance function head Cat Little, who is also director general for public spending at HM Treasury.

That letter flagged work supported by the “Risk Management Centre of Excellence” set up within the finance function. Chisholm and Little said the centre had regularly brought together Crown Commercial Service representatives with departmental risk-management leads during the pandemic.

The Boardman Review of Government Procurement in the Covid-19 Pandemic acknowledged that risk management was currently part of the government finance function.

But Boardman, who stepped away from his non-executive role at BEIS when he was appointed to report on supply-chain finance and the Greensill scandal in April,  said a separate risk management profession would have wider scope.

He said that broader view could include legal issues, policy work, reputation, procurement, use of resources, supply chain, and working with local agencies and the wider public sector.

“This could be based on the existing profession models within the government finance function in HMT or that deployed by the government commercial function,” he said.

He added: “Risk management should be treated as a coordinated profession, with dedicated horizon-scanning management teams set aside from the main policy functions.

“The government should instigate a programme of training for risk managers in government with certification and formal accreditation, developing common standards and levels of training with a central body that can coordinate assessments of risk.”

Boardman said basic crisis management should be a “standard part” of training for civil servants, with more advanced modules made available and updated at the start of any crisis.

PAC also called on the government to provide a quarterly progress update on work to create the new risk management profession. The Treasury minutes appeared to accept the request.

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