Leadership for the long term: Whitehall's capacity to address future challenges - Public Administration Contents

5  Conclusion

121. We have reviewed the Government's capacity to analyse, assess and plan ahead. This is important both for known trends and risks, and for uncertain shocks and developments, sometimes termed 'black swans'. The press of day-to-day events too often crowds out the longer term and preparation for the unexpected. But this work is essential, as however well prepared the Government is for foreseen events, fundamental uncertainties and system-wide risks remain. These are systemic risk and radical uncertainty, and they arise from interconnectedness. They therefore require interconnected preparation. Yet all the evidence is that the preparation in Whitehall is not sufficiently connected: most of the key problems faced by Governments are horizontal and most government responses are vertical.

122. Policy short-sightedness can become endemic and too often goes unchallenged by the Civil Service. Civil servants offer advice to Ministers, who have the power and responsibility to make decisions about resources for the future. They must be supported to create systematic and imaginative analysis of trends, risks and possibilities-this is already happening in some places. Obstacles like inadequate skills, inconsistent use of language, jargon, mistrust and above all, a lack of cross-government working, must be addressed. It is the responsibility of those giving advice—including those outside Government—to ensure that their advice is heard.

123. At present horizon scanning has to battle with the current agenda and its insights do not always reach policy makers. The Government's assessment of likely future challenges should be as open as possible, to enable counter views to be articulated, and ensure that debate is as wide as possible. Otherwise, group-think will prevail and it will come as a surprise when expected futures do not materialise, leaving the UK unprepared to take advantage of future opportunities. Contacts between Whitehall and outside sources of knowledge and analysis are inadequate. By its nature, foresight demands access to the widest sources, not closed rooms.

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© Parliamentary copyright 2015
Prepared 9 March 2015