Dominic Cummings Coronavirus Committee Evidence

Posted on 3rd June, 2021


Dominic Cummings gives Oral Evidence at the Coronavirus Lessons Learnt Committee


Below are extracts from the House of Commons - Health and Social Care Committee and Science and Technolgoy Commitee - held 26 May 2021, including references to Bill Gates. Full 7hr 08mins video and related documentation below.



Aaron Bell: That was flawed scientific advice. Our Committee heard from Patrick Vallance on 25 March last year that, basically, Government were entirely following scientific advice through this period, more or less. We were ranked second for pandemic preparedness on the international comparisons, which are obviously based on utterly flawed criteria—this is all group-think again. In your view, were all Ministers, from the Prime Minister downwards, badly advised in that period before the first lockdown by the people who should have been looking out for them—the civil servants and scientific advisers?

Dominic Cummings: I think all senior people involved with that process—me, the Cabinet Secretary, the CSA, the CMO—would say we got a lot of things wrong in that period. I have been critical of the Prime Minister, but if you dropped Bill Gates or someone like that—the most competent people in the world you could possibly find—into that job on 1 March, any of them would have had a complete nightmare. There is no doubt that the Prime Minister made some very bad misjudgments and got some very serious things wrong. It is also the case that there is no doubt that he was extremely badly let down by the whole system. It was a system failure, and I include myself in that as well. I also failed."


Chair: ...  let me open by asking: what is it that you think we got right on the vaccine that was so different from some of the other things we have been talking about today?

Dominic Cummings: I think, fundamentally, on vaccines, there was clear responsibility. There was someone who was actually in charge of it—Kate Bingham. She was working with Patrick Vallance; she built a team of people who understood what they were doing. She had the strength of character not to be pushed around. We had a kind of formal thing which was, “You’re in charge of it. You report basically directly to the PM. You don’t report to the Department of Health.”


... we also said to her, Treat this like a wartime thing. Ignore rules. If lawyers get in your way, come to us and we’ll find ways of bulldozing them out of your way.


... The conventional wisdom was that we were not going to be able to have any vaccines in 2020. In March, I started getting calls from various people saying, “These new MRNA vaccines could well smash the conventional wisdom, and don’t necessarily stick to it.” People like Bill Gates and that kind of network were saying that.


Essentially, what happened is that there was a network of Bill Gates-type people who were saying, “Completely re-think the whole paradigm of how you do this. Build in parallel—here is the science thing; here is the manufacturing thing; here’s the distribution; here’s the supply; here’s the logistics; here’s the data.”


The normal thing is that you do those sequentially. What Bill Gates and people like that said to me and others at No. 10 was, “You need to think of this much more like some of the classic programmes of the past—the Manhattan project in world war two or the Apollo programme—and build it all in parallel. In normal Government accounting terms, that is completely crazy, because if nothing works out you have spent literally billions building all these things up, and the end result is nothing—you get zero for it, it’s all waste.


What Bill Gates and people and Patrick Vallance and his team were saying was that the actual expected return on this is so high that even if it does turn out to be all wasted billions, it is still a good gamble in the end. All the conventional Whitehall accountancy systems for that cannot basically cope with it, and you have to throw them all down the toilet. That is, essentially, what we did.


Patrick came to me and said, “I want to do this. We must take it out of the Department of Health.” Bear in mind that this was the time we were having all the conversations about PPE, testing, shielding and all the things we have gone through today already, with all these different things being wrong. Patrick said, “Take it out of the Department of Health. Will you support me on that with the PM?” I said, “Absolutely—damn true I will.” I spoke to the Cabinet Secretary and he completely agreed because, also, he was watching all of these meetings in April about all the problems the DH had.


So weirdly, this was one of the things that actually had almost no real formal meetings and actually very little discussion. Patrick, me and the Cabinet Secretary all basically went to the Prime Minister when he came back from being ill and said, “There’s just no alternative. We’ve got to do it like this. It’s inconceivable we can leave it in DH. Here’s the structure,” and the Prime Minister just decided in 90 seconds: “Fine. Do it.”


That was it, and there was basically not really any formal structure. There was a little bit of whingeing here and there. There was a little bit of pushback in some quarters, saying, “This is extremely risky. If you don’t go down the EU approach and that works, and we do it ourselves and it doesn’t work, you guys are all going to be in a huge political hole.” 


Zarah Sultana: My final question is about vaccines, just bringing it back to the top. You mentioned Bill Gates, Mr Cummings, who has vocally opposed IP waivers. We know that vaccine production globally is throttled for many reasons, such as the control of vaccine supplies by wealthier countries and the hoarding of vaccines. If you were advising the Prime Minister, would you also support President Biden’s move to support lifting patent protection? What is your opinion on vaccine IP?


Dominic Cummings: I don’t really have an opinion on it. I strongly, strongly suspect that Bill Gates knows far more about this than President Biden does. If Bill Gates is saying that this is a big mistake on vaccine production, then my prior view would be that he is almost definitely right, and we should at the very least take his opinion extremely seriously.


Chair: ... Just reflecting back on your time in Downing Street dealing with the pandemic, what are the key lessons that you would learn—lessons that can be applied?


Dominic Cummings: I think there is a general principle of making things like SAGE and scientific advice more open. There is an obvious question about responsibility: a really fundamental question about how the British state works, about power between Ministers and officials and about who is actually in charge of things and who can actually form teams. ... The Whitehall culture of how responsibility is deliberately diffused is intrinsically hostile to high-performance management.


If you had Bill Gates himself or any great people from history who really understand how to run these kind of teams, the first time you put them in a job, all of them would say, “How the hell am I supposed to manage that if I can’t pick who the team is, I can’t fire them and I can’t bring people in?” If there is one change you could make in terms of the civil service, the HR system should change so that, except a tiny fraction of national security oddities, which are not really relevant, all appointments— fundamentally 99-plus per cent of civil service jobs—should be open by default. The competition for them should be open by default. We have got so many brilliant people in this country and then we have a civil service system that literally puts a massive barrier up and says, “We are going to recruit all these things internally,” like a caste system. It is a completely crackers way of doing things.


During this thing, we had to go out and get external people to come in and provide all kinds of crucial skills, but that shouldn’t be just something that you do because there is a crisis."

Government info:


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