Cabinet Office publishes National Risk Register following a review led by University of Sheffield engineer

The Cabinet Office has this week published the National Risk Register. It reveals the key risks facing the UK in the future – including pandemics and extreme weather caused by climate change.

A close up of a mobile phone placed on the keyboard of a laptop
  • University of Sheffield researcher led a Royal Academy of Engineering review into the UK’s National Security Risk Assessment - an outline and assessment of the most significant risks facing the country
  • The findings from the review and report have fed into changes to the 2023 National Security Risk Assessment and the National Risk Register, published by the Cabinet Office this week.
  • Engineers are trained to examine complex systems, assess risks and their propagation, and construct systems for safety and resilience

In 2021, the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng) was commissioned by the Cabinet Office Civil Contingencies Secretariat to undertake an external review of the underpinning methodology of the government’s National Security Risk Assessment (NRSA). 

The findings from this review, led by Professor Joan Cordiner, Professor of Process Engineering from Sheffield’s Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, fed into changes to the 2023 NRSA and the National Risk Register to ensure it is comprehensive, accurate and usable.

As a result of the review, the government has declassified more risk information than ever before, adopting a transparent by default approach to the National Risk Register. Following a recommendation from the RAEng report, the register also separates out chronic risks - including artificial intelligence and climate change - and now includes variations of the reasonable worst-case scenario where different or additional planning is required.

Engineers are trained to examine complex systems, assess risks and their propagation, and construct systems for safety and resilience. Building upon the Royal Academy of Engineering’s previous work on risk and resilience and the cross-sector experience of its Fellows, such as Sheffield academic Professor Cordiner, the review examined a range of practices from industries such as nuclear and chemical and explored a breadth of risks close to engineering, from cyber threats to flooding.

Through case studies and interviews with major private and public sector risk owners, the review drew out lessons relevant to risk owners of all types and focused on techniques for scenario design, exploring interdependencies, and building organisational resilience.

Seven principles for good practice were identified to help organisations employ a joined-up approach to risk assessment that strengthens resilience in practice, helping to build toward the government’s goal of “making resilience a national endeavour, so that as a country we are prepared for the next crisis, whatever it might be.” The seven principles are:

  1. Ensure a joined-up approach
  2. Encourage participation and communicate clearly
  3. Focus on impact
  4. Explore the interdependencies
  5. Consider a range of scenarios
  6. Embed new data and metrics
  7. Review based on need

The review also made some practical recommendations based on the limitations of the 2019 methodology, 12 of which were intended for immediate implementation and are referenced in the National Resilience Framework. A further recommendation presented a more radical, alternative ‘blank page’ approach.

This review provided an opportunity to learn from a diverse range of industry sectors, academia, and government. We are pleased that the review is referenced in the National Resilience Framework and has informed the newly published National Risk Register.

“Implementing the lessons learned will not necessarily be easy, as risk, resilience, and organisational culture are closely intertwined. But with the lived experience of the Covid-19 pandemic, now is the time to foster a resilience-oriented culture that drives action to make the UK a safer, more prepared nation for everyone.”

Professor Joan Cordiner

Find out more about the RAEng’s work on resilience and risk assessment and how this fed into the NRSA and the National Risk Register

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