Managing cross-border travel during the COVID-19 pandemic – Report Summary

This is a House of Commons Committee report, with recommendations to government. The Government has two months to respond.

Author: Committee of Public Accounts

Related inquiry: Managing cross-border travel during the COVID-19 pandemic

Date Published: 26 July 2022

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Summary

Managing cross-border travel was an essential part of health measures introduced by government during the pandemic. Despite spending at least £486 million on implementing its traffic light system to manage travel during the pandemic, government did not track its spending on managing cross-border travel or set clear objectives, so does not know whether the system worked or whether the cost was worth the disruption caused. Similarly, its failure to develop good data to inform its decisions means it does not know the impact on public health of granting 2.5 million exemptions from parts of the system.

Government relied on private sector companies (‘carriers’) to implement checks on additional health documentation, and on the public to understand and comply with what was required of them. Despite this key role and the costs incurred, government gave carriers no specific additional support. It also did not clearly communicate changes to the measures to either carriers or the public. Government changed the rules at least 10 times between February 2021 and January 2022, but gave the travel industry little time to adapt its operations for those changes. People travelling found the rules difficult to understand, and 40% of people did not know the rules on self-isolation. Departments have failed to protect the taxpayer, and the public, from the risk of fraud and poor quality of service from providers of COVID-19 tests for people travelling to the UK, or to vigorously pursue the fraud that has occurred.

It is not enough for Departments just to gather evidence from implementation of these measures to feed into the public inquiry. As we have repeatedly observed, it is essential that Departments learn lessons in order to manage effectively large cross-government portfolios in future and respond to any future emergencies.