On 22 February 2024, Resilience First held a 'Resilience State of our Nation' briefing, reception and private dinner with Lord Toby Harris, Chair of the National Preparedness Commission. The event was co-hosted by PA Consulting and Radisson Collection Hotel, The May Fair. These are our reflections from the evening. 


Looking back

Four years ago, on this day (22nd February) there was news coverage of an infectious disease emerging abroad. Four weeks later, Boris Johnson announced that the entire nation was going into lockdown – how quickly society as we knew it changed.

This was followed by the Russia-Ukraine conflict in 2022, the ‘accidental’ damage to the undersea cables leading to internet black out in the Shetland Islands, and London experiencing 40 degrees Celsius – all surprising and unbelievably rapid developments. 2023 saw the energy crisis. And these turbulent trends are set to continue as in 2024. Most of the world’s democratic nations will be going into elections this year; the UK has seen 10 different named storms during the current storm season, highlighting climate change-induced risks and disruptions to homes and livelihoods.  We are also seeing the advent of ChatGPT and the rapid adoption of AI – platforms which are still under development, and while they may bring efficiencies also pose new and unknown risks. Look at the power failures in Texas, showcasing its vulnerability in a modern industrial country – the eighth-largest economy among the nations of the world.

In response to the government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic the National Preparedness Commission, with 50 leading commissioners, was set up to help the UK become more resilient by encouraging authoritative bodies to consider:

  1. What should we prepare for?
  2. How much preparedness is enough?
  3. How do we finance this?

The UK Government Resilience Framework (UKGRF) was a good first step, however it needs to go further.  Last year’s published National Risk Register (NRR) identified 89 risks, and whilst being more transparent, it presents only acute risks and does not consider chronic risks such as climate change, AI, microbial disease and serious crime.  Chronic risks need to be included in the NRR.  Furthermore, it assumes that business-as-usual risks – such as the state of our health service – are being adequately managed and does not consider scenarios where the NHS might be unable to cope.

What next?

Our nation, cities, and organisations need preparedness and resilience designed in. Global trends will impact us more directly in years to come. The impacts of climate change will become more intense and frequent – making parts of the world uninhabitable.  A billion people are likely to be on the move by 2050, impacting availability of food and water and causing security issues.

Internationally, we should be considering who controls the mining rights in Africa, the polarization of US politics, China’s Belt and Road Initiative (creating dependencies in Europe, SE Asia and Africa), the growth in power of Russia, India and Brazil, as well as the future of the EU.

Today we operate with heavy reliance on interconnected systems which are exposed to cascading catastrophes – yet there is inadequate investment in resilience. The world is becoming more volatile and unstable, and we cannot carry on burying our heads in the sand. We all need to invest in preparedness and resilience.  Businesses should be investing more in resilience and be prepared to break down silos.

As a nation, we are not keeping up with the pace of disruption and problems.  Is anyone allocating enough of their budget to get it right? The UKGRF is a great step forward in taking greater resilience seriously.  However, we still need a strategy that will set out clear actionable milestones.

The resilience of our Critical National Infrastructure (CNI) needs urgent attention too.  The UK has a crumbling infrastructure, marred by changing government priorities, lack of funding, and a buildup of a long list of renovation projects.

A resilience dividend is always hard to demonstrate.  How can you show the value of investing in flood defence, for instance, when it can be difficult to visualize. The Thames Barrier has saved the capital from countless flooding, but this is not always appreciated.  Furthermore, flooding calculations are based on property and not on the impact on the individual.

Looking forward

To build the resilience of our nation we need a more joined up system around resilience. Intent and thinking have started but is not happening fast enough and is not built in.  The NRR is a significant step forward but needs to also extend to consider the second order of the impacts of risks.

When planning for a pandemic, the Department for Education had a plan for one school not being able to take public exams – NOT the entire nation!  We need greater systems thinking.

Are we developing the right skills to address the resilience needs of our nation?  The UK Resilience Academy will potentially be a great initiative, but will it also extend to the public and to schools? Resilience teaching needs to start at an early age – we teach children how to cross the road, now we need to do the same for safety online and developing resilient mindsets.

For the wider population and businesses, how do we incentivise resilience? Do we need standards?  Measurement plays a big role for regulators and creates a level of confidence in its application. Could tax incentives drive resilience? How can we encourage greater investment in climate adaptation?

It was disappointing to see the requirement for a resilience statement dropped as an unfair burden on organisations, as it could have been a lever for greater resilience. 

As such, we need better resilience programmes with buy-in from leadership in both businesses and government. 

It is often remarked that different sectors have different resilience needs. Do we though? Fundamentally, all businesses need to be resilient against financial risks and non-financial risks (tech, cyber, AI, climate change, reputation, people and so forth).

We need to create a more joined up dialogue with greater capacity in government.

The 6 dividends of resilience are noted as economic development, job creation, improved social services, more vibrant ecosystems, and greater community cohesion. These bring clear benefits to building livable cities whilst reducing impacts from risks and improving adaptive capacity. 

Yet, we do not have a budget for disasters yet to happen.  Also, there is a lot of noise around terrorism preparedness, yet businesses are finding it difficult to grapple with AI.

Scenario planning, exercising and training are all useful in developing resilience planning and helping us understand if we are a target or could be near a target.  We need to encourage Boards to take part in such exercises, even though it is often difficult to get their attention.

We need the same drive for climate adaptation as for net zero. A whole of society response needs a whole of government approach in the first instance.

We should consider a business-led response, especially as politicians are currently distracted by the upcoming general elections.

To build resilience of our nation, we need action now.