Written evidence submitted by the Institute
for Government and the Libra Advisory Group
The Institute for Government and Libra
Advisory Group convened a series of discussions amongst UK national
security professionals from November 2009 to March 2010 to diagnose
problems with the existing arrangements for the making and delivery
of national security policy and to outline possible reforms ahead
of a General Election.
These discussions brought together key
practitioners and thinkers from within and without Whitehall.
This note summarises key findings and provides some early observations
on progress made by the coalition Government on this agenda.
The discussions identified problems with
the strategy and with structures that support strategy-making;
the budgeting and performance management systems; and the generation
of the appropriate talent and culture needed to instantiate change.
Various proposals emerged for both incremental and more radical
reform if the UK is to get better at delivering national security
effect at home and abroad.
A first look at the coalition Government's
reforms since the General Election indicate that some progress
has been made in tidying up central structures and enhancing the
FCO's role in policy-making. However, it remains unclear how able
the new structures are to take a truly strategic approach to cross-government
priority-setting. We recommend that the PASC seek reassurance
that three critical areas are being addressed:
Doing strategy and planning. Are Ministers
confident that the practices, processes and culture of thinking
strategically about national security issues and adopting best
practices in planning are being adopted and are informing key
national security decisions? Is the adoption of risk management
tools at the centre doing enough to drive risk-based planning
Budgeting and performance management.
Are budgeting systems being reformed so as to encourage integrated
planning and delivery? Are cross-cutting results based management
frameworks being put in place?
Audit/evaluation and critical challenge.
Are appropriate arrangements being put in place to generate sufficient
internal and external challenge and evaluation so as to give Ministers
confidence that policies are having the desired impacts?
1. In late 2009, Principals from Libra Advisory
Group, with extensive experience in Whitehall and national security
reform overseas, and staff from the Institute for Government,
with extensive experience of domestic policy reform in the UK,
teamed up to tackle perceived failings in the way that HMG formulated
and delivered foreign and national security strategy and policy.
2. The Institute for Government's report,
Shaping Up, published in January 2010 diagnosed three issues
Whitehall needed to address in order to become more effective:
The centre needed to move from micromanagement
of outcomes and become the driving force behind strategy and capabilityin
particular the role of the Cabinet Office needed to change.
Departments needed stronger internal
governance to ensure that they delivered their objectives.
Stronger mechanisms were needed to ensure
better joining up where issues cut across departmental boundaries.
3. While Shaping Up was in preparation,
Libra Advisory Group and the IFG convened a series of "strategic
conversations" with key Whitehall departments, political
advisors and external experts to look at how national security
strategy is organised and implemented. The meetings took place
in the period November 2009 to March 2010, under the Chairmanship
of former Security and Intelligence Coordinator and Permanent
Secretary at the Ministry of Defence, Sir Richard Mottram. Those
meetings were supplemented by individual sessions in departments.
The conclusions reached were those of the participants, neither
of Libra, nor IFGbut they very strongly echoed many of
the Shaping Up themes even though that was a thesis developed
largely through the lens of domestic policy.
4. These discussions took place before the
2010 General Election. They reflected the interest shown in achieving
a more strategic approach to these issues, both by the then Government,
through the development of the UK's National Security Strategy,
and the ideas on how better to organise around national security
issues in the Conservative Green Paper on national security. The
discussions also built on the momentum for reform generated by
earlier work such as that of the IPPR commission, chaired by Lords
Ashdown and Robertson, and work in the UK's overseas partners
on national security reform, notably in the United States, Australia
5. The discussions focused on three big
areas of concern. The first was on the development of strategy
and the structures that were used both to decide strategy but
also to make it happen. Participants felt that the arrangements
for coordination on counter-terrorism, with the lead in the Office
of Security and Counter-Terrorism, worked well, but that this
degree of strategic focus and clear line to delivery did not exist
in other areas. While the National Security Strategy was regarded
as a significant advance in terms of a cross-Whitehall analysis
of threats, it failed on two counts. It did not force prioritisation
and lacked a clear link to resource allocation. Weak coordination
at the centre was also mirrored in weak coordination in many cases
on the ground. This reflected persistent uncertainty as to how
much of an activist, agenda-setting role the Cabinet Office should
have versus a more passive coordination role.
6. The second area of concern was on budgeting
and performance management. The National Security Strategy had
no real role on either of these and the Public Service Agreement
arrangements, which seemed to work relatively well in some domestic
policy areas, did not work in relation to key national security
issues, such as international conflict, and were probably testing
the limits of the PSA system. Current budgeting arrangements hindered
joined up strategising and working, either at threat level or
at country level where resource spend was determined by departmental,
not HMG, priorities. Furthermore, there was a real lack of internal
challenge on performancewith departments often very reluctant
to challenge what other departments were doing.
7. The classic joined up budget in this
areathe Conflict Prevention Poolwas small, managed
ad hoc on a year by year basis and had tended to be diverted into
funding immediate operations rather than address long-term prevention.
In country operations were sometimes biased towards being done
by people in uniform as MoD could access the Contingency reserve
when civilian departments could not.
8. The final area for focus was on talent
and culture. There was no "national security profession",
though there was a de facto national security cadre emerging.
The National School for Government offered no courses on national
security, and current arrangements for providing training on strategy,
planning and national security issues were ad hoc. Despite
some progress, there was an absence of joint training and strong
cultural and skills differences between departments, with relatively
little movement between departments (and what movement there was,
was at risk at a time when being outside your home department
put you at risk of being cut). Compared to some other countries,
the UK was much less porous, with less interchange between the
outside world (think tanks, academia) and Whitehall.
9. Given the range of voices and interests
represented at the meetings and Whitehall consultations, it proved
surprisingly easy to reach a degree of consensus on some of the
10. On strategy and structure, there was
wide agreement that the structure at the centre of government
in relation to strategy development, the ability to prioritise,
and the coordination of delivery, especially in complex environments
on the ground was not working very well. The conclusion was that
a new model was needed, involving a more powerful National Security
Council/NSID underpinned by a strengthened secretariat and thematic
hubs, drawing on the OSCT model. Those hubs would lead on the
key identified threat and would be based in lead departments,
overseen by cross-Whitehall boards. The FCO should lead the translation
of these priorities into specific country strategies to ensure
a coherent, collective approach. This would also mean a streamlining
of the internal organisation of the Cabinet with the separation
of the national security secretariat from the global issues secretariat.
(This issue has been resolved post-election in the new Cabinet
11. One of the particular implications of
this recommendation was for a new and stronger role for the FCO
as the leader of efforts on threat states and in developing prioritised
country/thematic strategies which would drive departmental activity
both in Whitehall but also overseas. Another implication, particularly
given spending constraints, is that rather than departments having
separate pools of analysts briefing individual Ministers, analysts
should be pooled and their shared analysis should be presented
to Ministers as a basis for making strategic decisions. One observation
was the importance of ensuring that DFID's significant investment
in research needs to be more effectively tapped by analysts in
the FCO and MoD.
12. The most pressing need to improve budgeting
and performance management was to link it clearly to the national
security strategy. There was reluctance to go as far as the IPPR
in recommending a unified security budget which would have to
be held in the Cabinet Office. But a strong case could be made
for giving the NSC a role in overseeing the allocation of the
national security resource envelope to make sure it aligns with
strategic priorities. This could be done in part by an expansion
of the virtual pooled budget approach, for instance by piloting
further virtual pooled arrangements for "new" cross-cutting
topics and priority countries. This would be in line with some
domestic thinking about more area based approaches to budgeting
(eg "Total Place" becomes "Total Pakistan").
Those pools need to run on a multi-year basis, rather than be
set annually, and ideally should be top sliced from initial allocations
rather than brought together by contributing departments.
13. The importance of being able to get
a better handle on cross-cutting ways of measuring performance
and impact, albeit recognising that demonstrating impact in foreign
and national security policy may be harder than in domestic policy,
was a strong theme of the discussions. With PSAs not being seen
to have worked particularly well, a number of ideas were put forward
to address assessment of impact. One missing tool in the UK system
may be some form of "classified institute" akin to RAND
in the US which is able to provide informed internal challenge
and so provide Ministers with an independent source of advice.
14. In relation to talent and culture, the
discussions recognised the efforts made by the leadership of FCO,
DFID and MoD to inculcate a culture of "jointery" in
places like Afghanistan. But participants concluded that further
efforts along these lines would be required to make the structural
and process changes take effect which would form the building
blocks of creating a common culture and a more coherent approach
to talent management across the national security area. The lead
will have to come from Ministers and Permanent Secretaries to
drive cultural change by clearly communicating the notion of "common
endeavour". While some of the underlying systemic problems
will take time to address, incremental changes could begin to
address the issues. There are a number of tangible steps which
could be taken straight away. These include creating clear career
paths for people in the national security area and pump priming
more joint educational activity. Recruitment practices and willingness
to spend on training differ enormously between MoD (which invests
heavily in education and training), DFID (which often expects
new recruits to have masters' degrees in directly applicable subjects),
and the FCO (which still recruits largely based on ability and
adaptability). A further step would be more encouragement of interchange
within government, between departments, and with the external
national security community.
15. Finally, as identified in the Shaping
Up report, there are a lot of rather prosaic barriers to making
joint working work betterlack of common IT systems, multiple
terms and conditions, different appraisal systems which act to
make the ambition of jointness unnecessarily hard to realise in
practice. These may now be being addressed by the activities of
the newly established Efficiency and Reform group but in the longer
run may require the creation of a single civil service on common
terms and conditions.
So is the coalition shaping up for national security?
16. The first answer is that it is too early
17. Internal structures appear clearer with
the creation of the National Security Adviser post and the new
secretariat, integrating the global issues brief. But at the same
time, there are still some issues which could straddle multiple
interests in the Cabinet Officefor instance energy security
could be an NSS issue, is certainly an EU issue and is also a
key area of domestic policy. At the same time, the position of
the Foreign Secretary, as a Cabinet big beast, is changing the
internal dynamic between departments.
18. What is not so clear is whether some
of the changes of policy emphasis (eg the creation of a special
relationship with India, protecting the UK homeland, the commercial
focus of the FCO) are being translated into real trade-offs, policy
choices and hence priorities. This should be being surfaced in
the Security and Defence reviewbut the danger is that the
coincidence with the very tight timetable for the CSR will mean
that the big strategic choices are submerged in the more conventional
interdepartmental budget haggling (there was already some evidence
in our sessions that the October enthusiasm for joining up was
eroding by March as the reality of the spending arithmetic began
to dawn). The initial round of Structural Reform Plans has focused
very much on departments rather than a collective HMG effort.
In a perfect world, the spending position should be the catalyst
for a much more radical look at effective joint working, elimination
of duplication and cross-departmental prioritization.
19. Based on the Libra/IFG discussions and
our experiences on the domestic and foreign policy sides of Whitehall,
we think it would be worth exploring further three areas in which
government could improve the preparation and execution of foreign
and national security policy strategies:
"Doing" strategy and planning
20. By the end of the last administration,
a community of foreign and national security policy "strategists"
had begun to emerge across government. A number of strategy units
existed which worked together on futures thinking, cross-cutting
policy issues, and which helped each other to engender a culture
of more forward-looking strategizing across departments. This
embryonic strategy community had begun to develop a way of doing
business and a series of quality products. In light of structural
and personnel changes since the election, and based on early evidence
from departmental SRPs, we are concerned that this community has
not been built upon. Hence, the gains made towards inculcating
a more strategic approach to foreign and national security policy
may be being lost.
21. We have a similar concern at the next
level down, turning strategy into plans (whether in relation to
themes or countries). There has been progress in the past few
years towards a more professional approach to planning, in a cross-departmental
manner. There has been some progress towards inculcating a culture
of planning professionalism, results based management and multi-year
and integrated planning exercises. However, Whitehall still has
very few instances of, for example, country plans that are truly
based on robust analysis, clearly direct all HMG resources over
multiple years, and are operated on the basis of good risk management
principles. Making such approaches to planning the norm rather
than the exception will take sustained leadership at Ministerial
22. Risk management tools such as risk registers
are being embraced by the government as one means to capture and
hence manage national security risks. As part of a best practice
approach to corporate governance and planning, such tools are
to be welcomed. However, such tools will only be effective if
they go beyond the ways in which departments used risk registers
under the last administration. To make risk management a useful
driver for better strategy and policy-making, senior decision-makers
need to be held to account for development of contingency and
option plans tied to regular reviews of risks. There may be an
important role here for the national security secretariat to provide
a form of internal audit function to ensure risk management practices
are being applied and to sponsor after action reviews where policies
do not succeed.
Budgeting and planning processes
23. Initial indications, for instance the
SRPs, demonstrate a worrying trend back towards departmental silos.
An important conclusion of the Libra/IFG discussions was the vital
role to be played by virtual "pooled funding" and more
joined up resource allocation against common plans, with shared
measurement systems. Without such tools in place for budget allocation
and results based management, cross-government national security
strategies are unlikely to have great success. Furthermore, it
is evident that the CSR pressures could act positively (catalysing
joint working and real prioritisation) or negatively (prompting
a retrenchment into departmental silos).
Audit/evaluation and critical challenge
24. The importance of such processes have
been acknowledged by the new Government, for instance with the
Office of Budget Responsibility and DFID's accountability guarantee.
However, it remains unclear what plans exist for more systematic
approaches to a combination of private and open challenges to
cross-cutting national security policy issues and performance.
The Libra/IFG discussions provided some examples of approaches
that could be adopted to generate more robust challenge, and evaluation
as well as improving the permeability of the UK's national security
The authors of this submission have drawn on
the findings of the Libra/IFG strategic conversation but are responsible
for the interpretations drawn, particularly of events since the
election. The views expressed here do not reflect any corporate
views of Libra Advisory Group, the Institute for Government, or
the organisations with which Richard Mottram is associated.
Sir Richard Mottram is currently connected with
a number of private sector, government, and third sector organisations
and is a visiting Professor at the London School of Economics
and Political Science (LSE). He was formerly a civil servant and
for much of his career worked on defence strategy, defence policy,
and the defence programme. He held a number of permanent secretary
posts, including of the Ministry of Defence (1995-98) and, finally,
in the Cabinet Office (2005-07) as permanent secretary for intelligence,
security, and resilience and Chairman of the Joint Intelligence
Dr Andrew Rathmell is currently a Principal
with Libra Advisory Group, a part of Coffey International Development.
His most recent Whitehall posting was as a strategy project director
with the Foreign Office Strategy Unit (2008-09), where he led
cross-government strategy projects on conflict, South Asia and
international institutions. Since 2003, his work, primarily for
the UK and US Governments, has concentrated on stabilisation,
state-building and conflict management, notably in Iraq and Afghanistan.
A former Research Director at RAND Europe, Senior Lecturer at
King's College London, and Research Fellow at Exeter University,
his public policy work since the early 1990s has covered homeland
security, national defence and a range of foreign policy issues.
He is the author of numerous reports and articles on these topics,
and a former special advisor to the House of Commons Defence Select
Jill Rutter is a Whitehall Fellow at the IfG.
She was previously director of strategy and sustainable development
at DEFRA. Earlier, she held a number of roles at Treasury, No
10 and BP.