Headlines: July 23rd, 2001

Prime Minister Tony Blair’s call for a review risk management marks another milestone in public service culture change. The Performance and Innovation Unit, the Cabinet Office think tank, has been asked to look at ways to improve the way risk is managed. It will report early in the New Year.The review is the latest in a series of attempts to move public services away from a risk aversion culture and towards managing risk. Previous attempts include the March 1999 White Paper Modernising government which included a commitment to improve the way risk is managed, a Treasury consultation draft on ‘Management of Risk – a Strategic Overview’ in February 2000, followed by seminars for Ministers and senior civil servants on risk and policy development. In August 2000 the National Audit Office published ‘Supporting Innovation: Managing Risk in Government Departments. September 2000 was the deadline for departments to set out a framework describing how they would approach risk management. The frameworks were to include details of how staff would be told about the benefits of risk management and how senior managers would show their commitment to it.

The Interdepartmental Liaison Group on Risk Assessment, a committee of senior policy makers on risk issues has so far issued two reports, the first in 1996 and the last in 1998. The Committee’s website was last updated in August 2000.

The announcement of another look at risk management can either indicate that a confusing picture has emerged from earlier activity, or that the desired culture change is not happening.

Effective risk management is recognized as essential both for the delivery of improved public services and for the achievement of the Government’s wider goals. It embraces a wide range of activities including managing risks to the public, such as public health, social, environmental and safety risks, and also risks to the delivery of specific objectives and programmes including financial, operational and technological risks. Computer system failures have proved to the most repetitive high profile failures of risk management.

The review will look will look at communications with the public about risk and also at approaches to risk where some of the responsibility may fall to the private and voluntary sectors or to individuals.