The government has admitted that a special “taskforce” announced last autumn to tackle the supply chain crisis existed for just days – and may never have convened.
Established the day before Boris Johnson began conducting a major reshuffle, the cross-governmental group tasked with “fixing” supply issues was placed under the supervision of Michael Gove.
Reports at the time claimed that Mr Johnson had joked to Mr Gove – who was then Cabinet Office minister – that he “didn’t want to have to cancel Christmas again” as the National Economic Recovery Taskforce (Logistics) was set up.
But in response to a parliamentary question from Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner in March this year, Michael Ellis, the current Cabinet Office minister, was forced to admit that the taskforce, announced on 14 September 2021, no longer existed.
“When the prime minister’s cabinet committee structures were refreshed, gov.uk was updated in October 2021 and this no longer included the National Economic Taskforce (Logistics),” he said.
The minister insisted that logistics and supply chains remained “a priority” for the government, adding that they were “discussed regularly by ministers in a range of forums”.
The Cabinet Office later said work continues to enhance the resilence of supply chains, but now through a committee focused on domestic issues.
Responding to a separate question, Mr Ellis declined to comment on whether the logistics taskforce had met “at least once” before it was removed from the list of cabinet committees.
“It is a long-established precedent that information about the discussions that have taken place in cabinet and its committees and how often they have met is not shared publicly,” he said.
Ms Rayner told The Independent this amounted to evidence that the government was “unprepared for the problems facing our country, which will only make the cost of living crisis worse.
“They lurch from crisis to crisis,” she said. “Instead of serious solutions, all they’ve got is gimmicks and fake announcements to grab cheap headlines, with no real plan to solve the problem. The consequences are clear – travel chaos and spiralling prices for ordinary people.
“Now they’ve been caught creating a fake taskforce to hide the fact that they don’t have a plan to protect supply chains and ease the travel disruption Brits are experiencing.”
But a government spokesperson said: “These claims are incorrect. Logistics and supply chains are a priority for the government, and are discussed regularly by ministers in a range of forums. “We are committed to supporting people with the pressures of the cost of living and we have already provided over £22 billion of help in 2022-23.”
Andy Prendergast, national secretary of the GMB union, said: “The logistics crisis has had serious consequences across the economy – yet it gets no more than lip service from the government.
“You’d have thought after seeing the public plagued by empty shelves and haulage chaos, the taskforce would have taken serious steps to address the problems.”
He added: “As usual, it’s all talk and no action from a government incapable of getting to grips with the problems blighting households across our country.”