Director of ‘secretive’ scientific body placing cities into lockdown accused of hypocrisy

Sir Iain Duncan Smith, who called on Number 10 to reconsider the London-wide lockdown, described the JBC as “very, very opaque”.

He told The Telegraph: “It’s all very well to say they all act in a secretive way … but we need to know who they are, what their background is, who appointed them. This body can kill the UK economy at the drop of a word”.

Mr Duncan Smith said he had “no idea” who appoints personnel to the JBC, a body he described as “even more opaque”, than Sage.

Greg Clark, chairman of the science and technology committee, said the JBC: “is much less transparent than Sage despite its massive impact on the livelihoods of millions of people.  

“If the measures that are being taken are to enjoy public trust, this obscure organisation must be as open as Sage now is.”

The government was forced to publish members of the Sage scientific committee and their advice earlier this year following calls for transparency amid concerns about the breadth of their expertise.

In April, Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged “maximum possible transparency” around decisions leading Britain into lockdown.  

This was echoed in note written by the JBC and considered by Sage a month later, which recommended that the body “should pursue a reputation as an organisation that the public can trust.”

The note added: “This will require them to be an exemplar in terms of honesty, openness, competence and independence. These principles should be embedded into every level of the organisation and demonstrated to the public from day one.”

JBC director Dr Waite, an epidemiologist who has worked in various roles at Public Health England since 2013 and refers to himself as a “disease detective” on Twitter, appeared to concur when he addressed the science and technology committee in September.

Questioned about the importance of context when assessing and comparing information, he replied: “That is why transparency is so important. It is important to take all of that information in the round.”

When asked how to ensure the public have the “right context”, he responded: “Having as much information available and presenting all of it together is one of the really important things. The more information that is out there the better.”

Yet this information does not appear to include details about the composition of his organisation or their deliberations, despite it guiding the government’s response to Covid-19.

The JBC advises local authorities and ministers and is responsible for setting the national coronavirus alert level as well as monitoring changes in infection spikes around the country.  It also advises on which countries should make up the quarantine list.

It is the “central brain” of the new £9bn NHS Test and Trace Service and is led by Dr Clare Gardiner, seconded from her role as head of cyber resilience and strategy at the National Cyber Security Centre.  

Dr Gardiner reports to Baroness Dido Harding, the chief of Test and Trace which is overseen by Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary.  

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