Former government advisor creates rival lockdown advice committee

3 May 2020, 10:53

Sir David King
Sir David King. Picture: Getty

By Maddie Goodfellow

A former Government chief scientific adviser has assembled a group of experts to look at how the UK could work its way out of coronavirus lockdown.

Sir David King, who worked under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, created the board "in response to concerns over the lack of transparency coming from the UK Government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage)".

The new 12-strong committee of academics is keen to investigate seven key points, including how can successful test and trace be achieved, and what social distancing measures will be needed in the future.

The new committee's first press conference will be held on Sunday at 4pm, the same usual time as the Downing Street briefings over the weekend.

There have been concerns raised over discussions and attendance at Sage meetings, which are informing the Government's response to the Covid-19 crisis.

The government denied the Mr Cummings participated in SAGE meetings
The government denied the Mr Cummings participated in SAGE meetings. Picture: PA

Last week, the current chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said a partial list of Sage members would be issued "shortly" after the presence of Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson's controversial aide, at some of the meetings was revealed.

Sir David has previously said he would never have allowed political advisers to attend the scientific meetings.

The Guardian reported him as saying: "Dominic Cummings has the ear of the prime minister, so who is informing the prime minister about scientific advice?"

"Is it Cummings or is it the chief scientific adviser? Suddenly you get a confusion.

"There must be a single voice taking the view of the scientific community to the prime minister, that is the most important thing."

Sir David revealed his plans in the Sunday Times and told the paper transparency within scientific discussion was essential.

He added: "I am not at all critical of the scientists who are putting advice before the Government ... but because there is no transparency the Government can say they are following scientific advice but we don't know that they are."

On Mr Cummings' attendance at the meetings, he said: "Cummings is an adviser to the prime minister and the chief scientific adviser is an adviser to the prime minister.

"So there are two voices from the scientific advisory group and I think that's very dangerous because only one of the two understands the science."

It comes after the independence of the government's scientific advice on coronavirus was called into question after leaked information seen by the Guardian revealed Mr Cummings had attended Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) meetings as early as February.

Sage's purpose is to provide independent scientific advice to government in emergencies during periods of crisis.

But Mr Cummings' presence called into question the government's repeated claim that its response to coronavirus was being "led by science."

Mr Cummings was joined by Ben Warner, a data scientist who ran the campaign model for the Conservative's general election campaign and is understood to have worked with him on the Brexit campaign.

In a strongly worded response to the story, a government spokesperson branded the story as "ludicrous" and said while Mr Cummings had attended Sage meetings he had not participated.

Mr Cummings was also said to have been among 23 attendees at a key Sage meeting on March 23 - the day Mr Johnson announced the nationwide lockdown.