the Prime Minister was warned that transparency is essential to allow scrutiny of scientific advice and promote public confidence in foreclosure decisions.
The warning comes in a hard-hitting report from a committee of MPs complaining that there was too much secrecy surrounding the SAGE Scientific Advisors Committee last year.
SAGE, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, has been extremely influential throughout the pandemic and some Conservative MPs say the government has sometimes relied too much on its advice.
Some prominent members of SAGE have become controversial figures, with Professor Neil Ferguson, the epidemiologist widely recognized as the architect of the first national lockdown in the spring, being dubbed “Professor Lockdown” for his stern recommendations on coronavirus borders.
The report, prepared by the Committee on Science and Technology, says the monitoring system has improved, but there is a need for openness to new advisory bodies such as the Joint Biosafety Center.
The Conservative-dominated committee says the government has failed to learn from other countries about testing and tracing and isolating people who test positive for COVID-19[feminine[feminine.
MEPs also express concern that the government is presenting statistics in a misleading manner and urge ministers to ensure that public confidence in them is maintained.
“There is nothing to fear from openness,” said Conservative MP Greg Clark, who chairs the committee.
He added: “The more transparent the data, analyzes and conclusions, the better for policy making and for public confidence.
“SAGE started with too little transparency and got better with publishing its members, minutes and documents. A similar opening should apply to new bodies like the Joint Biosecurity Center.
Mr Clark’s commission also accuses the government of being too secretive about the impact of the pandemic and lockdown measures on people’s livelihoods and children’s progress in school.
“The government should disclose its assessment of the impact of the measures it is considering on livelihoods, education and well-being as it currently does with the epidemiological analysis,” said Mr. Clark, a former minister.
“This will be particularly important when ministers eventually weigh in on the right time to start lifting the current restrictions. ”
The committee’s report is the result of an analysis of how the government received and applied scientific evidence and advice during the period of the coronavirus pandemic until fall 2020.
On openness, the report says: “Transparency of scientific advice is essential to allow – in the scientific tradition – rigorous scrutiny and to promote public confidence in decisions taken pursuant to it.
“The initial arrangements around SAGE were not open enough. ”
Drawing lessons from other countries, parliamentarians complain: “A more explicit assessment by public health authorities of operational practices in other countries – such as testing, traceability and isolation measures in some countries of ‘Asia – should have been done. ”
But the committee is paying tribute to the Prime Minister for sharing his Downing Street press conferences with top advisers such as England Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty and Chief Science Advisor Sir Patrick Vallance.
The trio’s appearances became known as ‘Boris and the Boffins’ and another high-level adviser, the outspoken deputy chief medical officer, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, has become something of a cult figure.
“It has been important and reassuring for the public to see and hear first-hand from seasoned scientists and this should continue,” the report said.
Mr Clark concluded: “This pandemic has been the biggest test of how the UK government takes and acts on scientific advice in living memory.
“We believe that the government has been serious in its intention to obtain and act on rigorous scientific advice, and that the scientists – led by the Chief Science Advisor and the Chief Medical Officer – have rendered an exceptional service in providing analyzes and explaining them to the public.
“In the coming weeks, we will present further considerations in specific areas, including the testing and tracing system, as well as vaccine development and deployment. ”