Who does UK National Strategy? Further Report - Public Administration Committee Contents

Appendix 3—Government Response

Government Response to the Public Administration Select Committee First Report of Session 2010-11 'Who does UK National Strategy?'

The Government welcomes the Committee's detailed consideration of this important issue and recognition by the Committee of the progress in strategic thinking made by the establishment of the new National Security Council. Our response to the Committee's Report addresses each of the recommendations (in bold type below) in order.

We have interpreted the Committee's findings as being primarily concerned with strategy formulation and strategic thinking in national security, and we have framed our response accordingly. However, where appropriate we have also made reference to the Government's broader strategic agenda and strategy formulation.

Recommendation 1 (Page 27, paragraph 7):

If the UK is to navigate its way successfully through the networked world, and to 'lift its eyes to the wider strategic needs of this country', we need a National Strategy.

2. Cabinet, as the most important collective decision making body of Government has responsibility for the Government's overall strategy, and considers directly, or through its Cabinet Committees, any significant international or domestic policy issues. The Government's overall strategy is set out primarily in 'The Coalition: our programme for government' document, but also, in terms of economic strategy, in the Budget and the Spending Review. Additionally, the Business Plans of Government Departments, published on the No 10 website, set out the priorities for all areas of Government and the role of all Departments in the delivery of the Government's strategy.

3. The new National Security Strategy (NSS) is an important component of national strategy. Together with the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) it sets out Government's strategic decisions and priorities on security and defence based on an assessment of the strategic context, Britain's place in the world and an analysis of the risks and opportunities we face. The SDSR sets out how the Government will deliver the priorities in the Strategy and established a number of committees, each led by Ministers, to take forward specific aspects of the Review. An Implementation Board of senior officials will provide further drive and a monitoring function against delivery of all the commitments made in the NSS and SDSR.

Recommendation 2 (Page 28, paragraph 11):

It is ... essential for ministers to invest time and energy into strategy making. It is the demand from ministers for strategic appraisals which will create the 'strategic appetite' within Departments and Whitehall more generally for better and soundly based strategic analysis.

4. The Government shares the Committee's views on the importance of strategic analysis to underpin policymaking. The Cabinet and its Committees, including the National Security Council, and the Home and Economic Affairs Committee, give strategic direction to the Government's work. The Economic Affairs Committee, for example, ensures that issues relating to the economy receive thorough consideration by Ministers. It will play a key role in driving forward the Growth Review, which is taking a fundamental look at what each part of Government is doing to remove barriers to investment. In addition there are Departmental strategy groups, for example the Strategic Policy Group in the FCO which considers key strategic policy issues and advises the Foreign Secretary. The Defence Secretary's Defence Strategy Group provided perspective and direction in support of the SDSR.

5. The National Security Council (NSC) is a powerful centre of strategic assessment and decision-making at the heart of Government. This is under-pinned by joint analysis: where relevant, meetings of the NSC begin with the latest assessment from the Joint Intelligence Committee, ensuring that strategy is based on a shared understanding of the political, economic and/or military context. The Council will oversee the implementation of the NSS and the SDSR across the whole of Government. The discipline of systematic, weekly consideration of national security priorities, in a ministerial forum chaired by the Prime Minister, is encouraging a more coherent approach to strategy across Government departments.

6. Within individual Departments, Secretaries of State will chair Departmental Boards which will provide strategic leadership. They are responsible for developing the strategies for their Departments, in line with the Government's overarching strategic agenda as set out in the Coalition's Programme for Government. They will have access to advice on strategy from senior leaders from the commercial private sector and the third sector, who will sit on Departmental Boards as Non-executive Directors. Individual Department Business Plans will be scrutinised against priorities and milestones and to check the effectiveness of the strategies and progress in delivering them.

Recommendation 3 (Page 28, paragraph 12):

There is a second and equally important element about strategy: the need to ensure democratic legitimacy and to recognise the political limits of what strategy and our national interests can achieve. Elected representatives are best placed to articulate an understanding of what the electorate will find acceptable.

7. The Government fully accepts the clear role for Parliament in this area. Parliamentary Select Committees scrutinise the work of individual Departments. In addition, a number of Committees look at cross-cutting issues, including: the Public Administration Select Committee, in its remit to monitor the quality and standards of the Civil Service; the Liaison Committee, in its function of bringing together the work of all the Select Committees; and the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy which will look at all aspects of the Government's approach to national security.

Recommendation 4 (Pages 28-29, paragraph 16):

The Government should expand the remit of the NSC and of the National Security Adviser to take on a central co-ordinating role for National Strategy.

8. The National Security Council is a useful model of how a Ministerial body can oversee the development and implementation of a strategic agenda. However, Cabinet, as the overall decision-making body of Government, has ultimate responsibility for the Government's strategy.

9. The Cabinet Committee system, of which the National Security Council is part, allows smaller groups of Ministers to think strategically, and in more detail, about areas in which they may have specific expertise and interest. It is important that the National Security Council and its sub-committees concentrate on national security, to allow a proper focus on those issues, just as other Cabinet Committees focus on other aspects of the Government's responsibilities - particularly the economy and the domestic agenda. These elements are then brought together for collective consideration by Cabinet.

Recommendation 5 (Page 29, paragraph 19):

We strongly support the efforts of the former CDS to engender the culture of strategic thinking. We commend his initiatives of setting up a strategic advisory group and a forum for the practice of strategy. We invite the new CDS to ensure that this initiative is maintained and if possible enhanced and to explain personally to us how he plans to do so. We would also exhort the rest of Whitehall to engage in the process.

10. The new CDS will continue to promote strategic thinking within the Ministry of Defence, including by maintaining the panel of independent strategic advisers set up by his predecessor. The MOD's Defence Reform Review will consider how to build on this initiative to develop strategy capability further, integrated across the Ministry of Defence and with the rest of Whitehall.

Recommendation 6 (Page 29, paragraphs 20 and 21):

It is essential to recruit, train and promote a community of strategists from across Whitehall with different experiences and expertise who can work collectively. We recommend that the Royal College of Defence Studies and the National School for Government and others should consider how best to devise a joint forum and programme of education... Strategic skills should not only be valued but properly recognised in the appraisal system.

11. The Government agrees that it is important to continue to develop the capacity for strategy making and strategic thinking within Government. Strategic skills are already a required element in the Senior Civil Service appraisal process. They are also measured at other grades in specific posts: the 'Professional Skills for Government' core competencies include strategic thinking and the new Policy Skills Framework for Civil Servants adds further weight to this by providing a common language on strategy.

12. In terms of national security there is an existing network of Strategy Units in a number of Departments with national security responsibilities, including the FCO, the Home Office, DfID and the MoD which support the development of forward thinking in foreign, defence and security policy. Following the SDSR we will be exploring ways to strengthen their collective working and will report on progress to the Committee in six months' time. The Government is already building a cadre of civil servants who have experience of strategy in national security and have spent their careers delivering that function in different Departments. Options are also being explored to improve education in strategy. For instance, the UK Defence Academy is providing pilot courses on strategic leadership on national security issues for attendees from across government.

13. This Government is committed to ensuring that national security considerations are fully considered in all aspects of our thinking. So, in bilateral relationships with partners, the UK's strategic approach to advance our national interest will be based on multiple elements including economic, political and of course international and regional security considerations. In the recent Strategic Defence and Security Review for example, the Government committed to doubling aid to fragile and conflict states. Our work to tackle poverty and assist development in these countries will help to address the risks to the UK associated with conflict and fragility, and is strongly in our national interest. Increasingly the threats we face will stem from, or be associated with, events elsewhere, so we are investing more in preventing and tackling threats at source before they escalate into full blown conflicts or materialise on UK shores. The UK's international agreements also advance our National Security in the wider sense, as does our general interaction with partners and allies.

Recommendation 7 (Page 30, paragraph 23):

We...recommend that a capability review of National Strategy should start as soon as possible. It should report within a year. It should examine the various parts of Whitehall which should be contributing to National Strategy. [It] should determine how far the strategy functions in each department consider themselves part of a wider strategist 'profession'; [and] to what degree there is shared training, [and] ways of working.

14. We very much welcome the Committee's focus on how best to develop collective thinking - particularly on national security issues across the relevant Government Departments. We will explore the possibility of examining the effectiveness of collaborative working on national security issues and provide the Committee with an update in six months' time.

Recommendation 8 (Page 30, paragraph 24):

In the longer term, we would hope that enhanced Whitehall collaboration will lead to the development of a new agency to complement the existing arrangements. The new agency's Director would be a key player in Whitehall with regard to National Strategy, and its inputs and assessments would complement the joint intelligence assessments.

15. Paragraph 6.6 of the SDSR made a commitment to improve collaboration between the various Departmental strategy units which support the development of forward-looking defence and security policy, and create a more formal strategic thinking network overseen by the National Security Adviser (NSA). Heads of Strategy Units and those involved in strategic pieces of work across defence and security departments will attend the network, which will co-ordinate work programmes and consider specific pieces of collaborative work. This will build upon the informal network of Heads of Strategy Unit mentioned earlier, through which Departments have already delivered a range of joint strategy work.

16. The National Security Secretariat works closely with Government Departments, and in particular with their Strategy Units. It also consults agencies and organisations outside Government for strategic advice and expertise, including think tanks, academia and wider international organisations. Similar networks are already in place in other areas of Government such as the FCO, DECC and the Office for Security and Counter Terrorism (OSCT) in the Home Office. 

17. The Government will explore ways of ensuring better linkage, clearer commissioning and stronger impact of the various existing networks. The aim should be, as the Committee notes, to foster the culture of strategic thinking across Government. The Government does not believe that a new Agency is the right approach to develop better strategy making in Whitehall.

Recommendation 9 (Page 30, paragraphs 25 and 26):

There should be greater interchange between outside experts and Whitehall and career progression should involve spending time both within and outside of government as part of a wide and diverse strategy community. Government must ensure that funding for research into National Strategy and strategy making is not squeezed out by funding for [other] academic programmes. The reallocation of funding required is minimal and would be in the national interest.

18. Engagement with outside experts is now a normal part of strategy and policy work across government, through formal advisory fora, frequent informal contact, and official participation in external conferences and studies. The Government already regularly draws on external input to strategy through inward secondments and fixed term appointments from the wider public sector, the private sector, the voluntary sector and academia. In addition, non-executive Directors will bring external expertise into Government Departments at the most senior level.

19. This approach is also being considered in other areas. For example, the Joint Intelligence Committee invites academics to some of its meetings to provide additional challenge, the Foreign Office maintains close relationships with international think tanks and academic communities. In the Home Office, the Government's Counter-Terrorism Strategy (CONTEST) workshops have been externally facilitated and based on extensive research of both open source and classified material. 

Recommendation 10 (Page 30, paragraph 27):

We would invite Parliament to consider that the Joint Committee on National Security Strategy should likewise have its remit broadened to become the Joint Committee on National Strategy and Security. We would also invite the House to re-consider its membership. Contributions to National Strategy and National Security derive from a variety of departments, not least from the Cabinet Office. We suggest that membership of the Joint Committee should therefore be drawn from all appropriate departmental select committees. It would include this Committee, which oversees process at the heart of National Strategy and National Security.

20. The Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy was set up 'to consider the National Security Strategy', on the basis of a 2008 proposal from the then Prime Minister.  The Government has no plans to propose a change to the Committee's Terms of Reference.

21. When the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy was first established, the Commons Liaison Committee and the Prime Minister agreed that it's membership should include the Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee and the Chairs of the Business Innovation and Skills, Defence, Energy and Climate Change, Foreign Affairs, Home Affairs, International Development and Justice Departmental Select Committees, plus four other Members in addition to the ten Lords members. However, appointments to the Joint Committee remain a matter for the two Houses.

Recommendation 11 (Page 31, paragraph 32):

We would support a small, central budget allocated to National Strategy making; either under the control of the Cabinet Secretary, or the National Security Adviser in his wider, National Strategy, role. This funding would enable coordination of National Strategy making in each department, to ensure that departmental contributions to National Strategy are compatible, to promote common training, and to draw all those involved into a 'community' of Whitehall strategic thinkers.

22. The Government believes that Departmental co-ordination and collaboration will deliver the best results in this area. The NSS and SDSR commitments mentioned in the response to Recommendation 8 give the National Security Adviser a formal role in promoting this. The Government believes there is no requirement for a new budget to deliver these improvements.

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Prepared 31 January 2011