Former Downing Street adviser Dominic Cummings appeared before the all-party Science and Technology Select Committee on Wednesday when, among other things, he called the government's procurement system before 2020 an "expensive disaster zone”.
Cummings gave evidence about a new scientific research funding agency he championed, the Advanced Research & Invention Agency (ARIA), meant to provide rapid funding for UK inventors and researchers.
As he was questioned by the members of the committee, he spoke about his experience working for the government led by Boris Johnson. Cummings claimed that the UK's vaccine programme was moved out of Matt Hancock's Department of Health and Social Care after issues with buying Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for the NHS staff emerged.
“We had to have it authorised very directly by the prime minister,” Cummings said.
“In spring 2020 you had a situation where the Department of Health was just a smoking ruin in terms of procurement and PPE and all of that. You had serious problems with the funding bureaucracy for therapeutics. We also had the EU proposal which looked like an absolute guaranteed programme to fail – a debacle,” he added.
The former aide to the Prime Minister, Cummings made a comeback after his resignation from the government service in November 2020, and claimed that the Johnson’s procurement system before 2020 was an "expensive disaster zone", and when the coronavirus pandemic hit, it "completely fell over".
He also urged the committee to take a "very, very hard look" into "what went wrong and why in 2020”, referring to the poor management of the COVID-19 crisis by the British government.
Cummings was part of that government and left it quite controversially, having been accused of breaching lockdown restrictions, after he travelled to his parents' farm in County Durham.
“I think I made the right decision to resign when I did. I actually said to the prime minister back in July that I would leave by Friday 18 December at the latest so the whole thing was not exactly as it appeared,” Cummings said.
Having left his position, in what media called a “clear-out of Brexiteers” from Downing Street in the aftermath of an ongoing power struggle, Cummings told the MPs on 17 March that he made specific demands of Johnson before joining Number 10.
“The prime minister came to speak to me the Sunday before he became prime minister and said: 'Would I come to Downing Street to help sort out the huge Brexit nightmare?' I said: ‘Yes, if first of all you are deadly serious about actually getting Brexit done and avoiding a second referendum. Secondly, double the science budget, third create some Arpa-like [Advanced Research Projects Agency] entity, and fourth, support me in trying to change how Whitehall works because it’s a disaster zone’ and he said: ‘Deal’,” Cummings told the committee.
The funding for ARIA, promoted by Cummings, will be £800 million, to help - according to the government - "the most inspiring inventors to turn their transformational ideas into new technologies, discoveries, products and services – helping to maintain the UK’s position as a global science superpower."
Government Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance said ARIA’s importance of “scientific innovation has never been clearer than over the last year and this new body provides an exciting new funding mechanism for pioneering R&D.”