4 Conclusion |
59. In recent years, the landscape for cross-government
horizon scanning has been in flux. Centralised hubs of horizon
scanning have come intoand, in the case of the short-lived
Strategic Horizons Unit, very rapidly out ofexistence,
to be replaced with departmental functions with little cross-government
influence. The Government Office for Science (GO-Science) has
attempted to fill this vacuum by itself conducting high quality
cross-cutting horizon scanning through its "world lead[ing]"
Foresight programme and by attempting to improve and coordinate
departmental capability through its specialist Horizon Scanning
Centre. However, GO-Science's non-central location has limited
its influence and horizon scanning remains an activity frequently
performed but rarely used across much of government. The result,
according to the Public Administration Select Committee, is that
"policy decisions are made for short-term reasons, little
reflecting the longer-term interests of the nation".
60. The Government hopes that its new horizon scanning
programme will be a panacea for these past ills. It states that
the programme constitutes a "new approach" which aims
to "embed better horizon scanning capabilities in the policy-making
process" across the UK Civil Service.
We agree that the new programme provides an opportunity for a
clean slate. However, we are concerned that, so far, the programme
has more closely resembled a quick fix than a deeply considered
change of approach. In particular, there has been a worrying lack
of clarity over exactly what horizon scanning is and what the
new programme will attempt to do. While the Minister shrugged
off his inability to define horizon scanning as a reluctance to
engage in a "theological dispute",
we are unconvinced by this argument and consider his response
to be evidence that the remit of the programme has not been properly
set out. At the very least, it has not been properly communicated:
since the programme was first launched nearly a year ago no further
information about its activities has been made public and its
meetings have occurred behind closed doors, without published
minutes. The Minister has also acknowledged that he was not "confident"
in how the new programme would "make maximum use of"
the excellent work currently conducted by the Government Office
for Science (GO-Science).
In this report, we have suggested one stepthe re-location
of GO-Science to the Cabinet Officewhich would help integrate
these two loci for strategic horizon scanning; nevertheless, we
are disappointed that this fundamental question was not resolved
more successfully by the Day review and was not taken into consideration
prior to the launch of the new programme.
61. We at least partly attribute the failings of
the new programme to a lack of clear ministerial oversight. When
we first invited the Cabinet Office to provide us with a Minister
from whom to take oral evidence, we were told that it would be
the Minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude MPone
of three individuals who we were told would be providing ministerial
oversight for the new horizon scanning programme.
Less than a week before we were due to hear from Mr Maude, we
were told that he was no longer available. According to Mr Maude,
during the lengthy rescheduling that ensued,
it became "apparent that it would make greater sense for
another Cabinet Office minister to appear" in his place.
He continued: "the Programme is at a very early stage of
development, and as a result of subsequent consideration within
Cabinet Office, Oliver Letwin will now provide ministerial oversight
of this work".
Mr Letwin himself later provided further explanation:
Up until very recently, Francis Maude was keeping
an eye on [the programme] because it had been set up by the Cabinet
Secretary's process and he is the Minister for the Cabinet Office.
As it has evolved and it became clear that what it is actually
going to be focusing on is a series of things that will probably
have policy rather than administrative effects, in the invisible
dividing line between Francis and myself we concluded that it
made more sense for it to be on my side of the House, as I deal
with policy rather than administration and he deals with administration
rather than policy. Therefore, I have been drafted in, and from
now on I will be taking a very active interest in it.
do not consider it satisfactory for proper Ministerial oversight
to commence over six months after a new initiative has been launched.
Indeed, we consider this to indicate a lack of careful thought
in the planning of the new programme that is also apparent in
several aspects of its design and implementation. We
recommend that the Government take a more considered approach
to such initiatives in the future and encourage it to seriously
consider the recommendations made in this report to address the
shortcomings of its new horizon scanning programme.
178 Public Administration Select Committee, Second
Report of Session 2006-07, Governing the Future, HC123-1,
para 27 Back
Public Administration Select Committee, Twenty Fourth Report
of Session 2010-12, Strategic thinking in Government, HC1625,
Cabinet Office/Government Office for Science, "Horizon scanning
programme: a new approach for policy making", 12 July 2013 Back
GHS015 [HM Government] para 33 Back
The oral evidence session in question was due to take place on
09 December 2013; the rescheduled session did not occur until
six weeks later on 22 January 2014. Back
General correspondence of the Science and Technology Committee,
letter from Francis Maude MP to Andrew Miller MP, 7 January 2014
in respect of Government horizon scanning Back