Strategic thinking in Government: without National Strategy, can viable Government strategy emerge? - Public Administration Committee Contents

1  Introduction

1.  In our first inquiry of this session, we sought to answer the question, 'Who does UK National Strategy?' The answer we received was 'no-one'. We concluded that "as things stand there is little idea of what the UK's national interest is, and therefore what our strategic purpose should be".[1]

2.  This conclusion met a disappointing response from the Government, which demonstrated a misunderstanding of what we meant by National Strategy. We found that "despite our urging to the contrary, the [Government] response has failed to engage more fully with our findings or to address adequately our proposals for improvement."[2] In particular, the government resisted our recommendation to set out 'National Strategy'.

3.  However our report has been widely read across Whitehall, and has set the agenda for a broader discussion on the need for strategic thinking. Our conclusions also struck a chord with the military: we have been told that the Report is regularly discussed and analysed at Shrivenham Defence Academy Staff Courses, Royal College of Defence Studies, RUSI and the recommendations are frequently referred to by Defence Chiefs. Recently Parliament's Joint Committee on National Strategy endorsed the substance of our call for 'National' or 'Grand Strategy' by identifying the need for an "overarching strategy" which should include the policies and programmes of domestic departments.

4.  When we published our report, we made clear our intention to "continue to scrutinise the development of strategy making in Whitehall" and undertake a second inquiry on this topic once a progress report from the Government on strengthening the collective working of Whitehall strategy units was received in summer 2011.[3]

5.  This is the report of that second inquiry. We have sought to build on our previous inquiry, through the study of the concept of 'emergent strategy' (i.e. the way that National Strategy emerges from the process of government).[4] Our objective is to identify how short-term decisions are aligned with long-term national interests. We continue to advocate that coherent National or 'Grand' Strategy is indispensible and therefore it is essential for the Government to be able to draw upon a strong capability for strategic thinking from across Whitehall and beyond.

6.  The examination of capability builds on earlier PASC reports of this session on the state of the Civil Service: Good Governance and Civil Service reform: End of Term report: on Whitehall plans for structural reform and Change in Government: Agenda for Leadership.[5] This inquiry also builds on the PASC report in the previous Parliament, Governing the Future.[6]

7.  Over the course of this inquiry we have received 21 written submissions. We held four evidence sessions, hearing from the Minister for Government Policy, Rt Hon Oliver Letwin MP, and a range of academics, former senior officials, scientists, and representatives from businesses and think-tanks. We also held two seminars with strategic thinkers inside and outside of Government and set up an e-forum to feed opinion from the wider international strategic community into our inquiry. To help build on this international perspective and understand how strategic thinking influences policy and implementation in other countries, we met government and think-tank officials in Ottawa and Washington DC.

8.  We are also commissioning an opinion survey to determine the extent to which UK strategic thinking reflects the public's understanding of our national identity, their values and aspirations for the nation. We believe that this is the first time that a Select Committee has conducted research of this nature. We intend to publish the results of this survey and the conclusions we draw from it separately later this year.

9.  We would like to thank all those who contributed to the inquiry, and particularly our specialist adviser, Catarina Tully.[7]

1   Public Administration Select Committee, First Report of Session 2010-2012, Who Does UK National Strategy?, HC 435, para 30. Back

2   Public Administration Select Committee, Sixth Report of Session 2010-2012, Who does UK National Strategy? Further Report with the Government Response to the Committee's First Report of Session 2010-2012, HC 713, para 4 Back

3   Ev 70 Back

4   A full definition is at paragraph 21 Back

5   Public Administration Select Committee, Eleventh Report of Session 2010-12, Good Governance and Civil Service reform: End of Term report: on Whitehall plans for structural reform, HC 901, Public Administration Select Committee, Thirteenth Report of Session 2010-12, Change in Government: the agenda for leadership, HC 714,  Back

6   Public Administration Select Committee, Second Report of Session 2006-07, Governing the Future, HC 123-II Back

7   Catarina Tully was appointed as a specialist adviser for this inquiry on 12 July 2011. The following interests were declared: National Intelligence Council Associate, National School of Government visiting lecturer, Royal College of Defence Studies facilitator, Unitas Communications associate, Vanguard. Director of NHJ Strategic, 2011 Young European Leader for the Atlantik-Brucke Forum, member of Anglo-Omani Society and trustee of a Tower Hamlet health community organisation, WHFS. Back

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© Parliamentary copyright 2012
Prepared 24 April 2012