In March 2022 the UK Government announced that it intended to create a UK Resilience Academy (UKRA) to ‘establish competence standards and learning pathways in crisis management and resilience building’. The academy was confirmed when the UK Government Resilience Framework (UKGRF) was published in December 2022. 
The framework states that the UKRA would be ‘built out of’ the existing Emergency Planning College (EPC) and be ‘a physical and virtual campus delivering the scoping, design and delivery of training, wider education, learning and development and exercising for resilience professionals. It will bring together similar providers into a network, becoming a wider centre of excellence, incorporating concepts and doctrine, training and education, exercise and experimentation, lessons learning and implementation and innovation.’ ‘A reinvigorated National Exercising Programme will test preparedness throughout the resilience system.’
Design of the UKRA is underway. Consultations have begun on learning requirements, existing capabilities, gaps in knowledge, skills and behaviours, as well as the preferred methods of delivery for training and exercising. There is special interest in how a resilience community could become the foundation of a national network of learning and knowledge sharing.
It is reassuring to see that engagement with business is also taking place. This reinforces the framework’s stance that ‘The UK Government must work with businesses to encourage an active partnership in resilience, and to itself learn from the experiences of businesses. This must be a joint endeavour, with the UK Government doing more, through consultation with businesses, to set standards, and share guidance and information.’ There are high hopes that expectations will be realised as the track record has not been encouraging.
Identifying the gaps
The EPC is the government’s established centre for resilience learning and development in the UK. A commercial company, Serco, manages the EPC for and on behalf of the Cabinet Office’s Resilience Directorate. The centre focuses on civil-contingencies planning for national disasters and emergencies, advising government as well as other organizations on the training and exercising to help build resilience.
The UK Government Resilience Framework acknowledges that the EPC ‘will need a broadened remit to include the private sector covering CNI, the voluntary sector and finance’ if it is to fulfil its new tasking. This is a recognition that resilience extends more widely than the traditional sectors as set out in the Civil Contingencies Act (CCA, 2004). There are domestic, financial, organizational, urban, environmental, and social risks to consider where resilience plays an important part in building back better – otherwise resilience in the round. These risks can be significant and can have profound consequences on the stability and success of the whole UK, with many providing openings to cascading or concurrent risks from other areas. It would be unhelpful and unnecessary to have these addressed by a separate organization.
The new remit should require wider interaction and partnerships with those elements that constitute what is described as a ‘whole-of-society approach’ to resilience. This means the business sector (large and small, and beyond those just involved in CNI), the voluntary and community sector, the charity sector, the educational sector, religious groups, trade unions, NGOs, etc. Therefore, the dialogue needs to be comprehensive and strategically coherent if it is to bring all to the table before and not during an emergency. The aim should be to explore ways of integrating top-down (centralist) control with bottom-up delivery (subsidiarity) across all sectors.
Assistance in the conversations and practical training can be forthcoming from others. There is Cranfield University (The Resilience Institute), Manchester University (The National Consortium for Societal Resilience [UK+]) as well as the UK Defence Academy and the upcoming UK College for National Security. Such associations would facilitate the cross-fertilisation between academia, security, defence, and resilience across key risk domains. They would be beneficial in focusing on issues of leadership, stewardship and governance as these are key in the successful delivery of resilience.
It is worth considering other models adopted in other countries. The Scandinavian and Baltic countries offer good examples. The National Defence Training Association of Finland, for instance, offers training to citizens in how to prepare for and survive challenging situations. With 50,000 volunteers attending emergency-planning courses on an annual basis in Finland (with a population 8% the size of the UK), there is clearly a strong appetite there for greater engagement – and resilience – from the population. In Sweden, the concept of ‘total defence’ engages military and civilian parts of society in regular joint exercising. A new structure for Swedish civil defence and crisis preparedness was announced in 2022 with the aim of strengthening resilience ahead of peacetime disasters as well as a times of high alert. Spending on civil defence is proposed to increase to around €420 million (£365.9 million) by 2025, with more announced in recent budgets.
In pursuit of resilience in the round in the UK, the EPC should also address all aspects of resilience i.e. personal, emotional, organizational, communal as well as national, under the common rubric of collective preparation. It should therefore act as the repository and centre of excellence for all matters on resilience, and how they can be embedded in the population at all stages and levels. The introduction of a programme of resilience for all schools, colleges, and FE establishments would be a good way of getting early traction.
Then there is the issue of standards. The UK’s National Resilience Standards (2020), which are currently being used in self-assessments by Resilience Partnerships and Local Resilience Forums (LRFs), provide a basis for assessing performance across government. The Post-Implementation Review (2022) of the CCA recommended placing ‘the Resilience Standards on a statutory footing for Category 1 and 2 responders’. For the reasons outlined, this needs to go wider than existing CCA categories. The UK Government Resilience Framework says that ‘To support a new way of partnership working with the private sector, the UK Government will provide guidance on risk in order to help the private sector to meet new standards on resilience. These standards will be enforced through regulation only in the highest priority cases.’ While welcomed as indicators of interoperability and achievement, standards should not be seen as a panacea as there are recognised challenges around bureaucracy, scaling and shortcutting.
Besides the UK Government Resilience Framework, the government has done much to advance resilience in recent times: the creation of the UKGRF, a Resilience Directorate, the UK Resilience Forum, and work to ‘significantly strengthen’ LRFs in England are some positive actions. Yet, there is still a long way to go to embed resilience across all organizational silos and with the full panoply of measures to ensure holistic national preparation for, and response to, wide-scale national emergencies or other challenges. It may require mobilising a nation – as COVID-19 vividly required – but there is little evidence of a central capacity, with adequate resourcing, to achieve this. Hopefully, the UK Resilience Academy will advance the cause.
Robert Hall is former Executive Director and cofounder of Resilience First, and Author of Building Resilient Futures. He is currently writing a book titled The Resilience Mindset: A Philosophical Journey which will constitute the final part of a trilogy of books on resilience.
- Government response to Preparing for Extreme Risks: Building a Resilient Society, Cabinet Office, 17 March 2022. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1061424/government-response-preparing-extreme-risk.pdf
- The UK Government Resilience Framework, HM Government, December 2022. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1131163/UKG_Resilience_Framework_FINAL_v2.pdf
- Speech by (Swedish) Minister for Civil Defence at the Hanaholmen Initiative, 9 November 2022. https://www.government.se/speeches/2022/11/speech-by-minister-for-civil-defence-at-the-hanaholmen-initiative/
- Civil Contingencies Act Post-Implementation Review 2022, Cabinet Office, March 2022. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/6283a1a6d3bf7f1f3ef4838d/cca-pir-2022.pdf
- DLUHC has agreed a £22m three-year funding settlement for the 38 LRFs in England starting in the 2022/23 financial year.