The role of SAGE is likely to be reviewed when the pandemic is over. Some Government insiders have already admitted to having “bowed to” the advisory group too often over the past year. The Telegraph has the story.
A future independent inquiry into the handling of coronavirus is expected to scrutinise SAGE and consider whether such a monolithic body should hold so much power. Members of SAGE have themselves expressed concern that the group holds too much sway over ministerial thinking and prevents alternative views being given equal weight.
One possibility is that the Government sets up a so-called “red team” structure to challenge and check SAGE’s advice and the evidence behind it. Ministers could also demand more say over membership of the largely autonomous body, which changes with almost every meeting depending on who is invited by Sir Patrick Vallance, the Chief Scientific Adviser.
Matt Hancock has made it clear during the pandemic that SAGE’s role is kept “under review”. Formed under the last Labour Government, SAGE had, until the Covid crisis, been a largely obscure committee of scientists that was convened a handful of times each year. It was first called into action to advise on the 2009 Swine Flu pandemic, and went on to advise the Government on the 2014 Ebola outbreak, the 2016 Zika Virus outbreak and the 2018 Salisbury poisonings.
In 2019, SAGE met just once, to discuss the feared collapse of the Toddbrook Reservoir dam in Derbyshire. However, over the course of 2020, it met 74 times.
Of particular concern is the extent to which Government officials have “bowed to” the body over the past year of madness, and the lack of a “red team” to challenge its advice, insiders say.
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