Public governance, agility and pandemics: a case study of the UK response to COVID-19

Paul Joyce

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1 Citation (Scopus)
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The UK government’s leaders initially believed that it was among the best-prepared governments for a pandemic. By June 2020, the outcome of the collision between the government’s initial confidence, on the one hand, and the aggressiveness and virulence of COVID-19, on the other, was evident. The UK had one of the worst COVID-19 mortality rates in the world. This article explores the UK government’s response to COVID-19 from a public administration and governance perspective. Using factual information and statistical data, it considers the government’s preparedness and strategic decisions, the delivery of the government response, and public confidence in the government. Points for practitioners: Possible lessons for testing through application include: Use the precautionary principle to set planning assumptions in government strategies to create the possibility of government agility during a pandemic. Use central government’s leadership role to facilitate and enable local initiative and operational responses, as well as to take advantage of local resources and assets. Choose smart government responses that address tensions between the goal of saving lives and other government goals, and beware choices that are unsatisfactory compromises.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)536-555
Number of pages20
JournalInternational Review of Administrative Sciences
Issue number3
Early online date14 Jan 2021
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2021.


  • decision-making
  • good governance
  • multi-level government
  • performance
  • public administration
  • public management
  • strategy


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