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Urgent reform of Whitehall culture required to improve strategic decision making and make UK fit for the future, say MPs

29 May 2024

MPs say now is the time to reset government capacity and quality of strategic thinking and future-proof ministerial decision-making for this generation and those that follow.

The immediate and escalating challenges and opportunities which face the UK need long-term vision, creativity and collaboration across political parties and government departments, says a new report from the Liaison Committee, Promoting national strategy: How select committee scrutiny can improve strategic thinking in Whitehall.

As the UK heads to the polls on July 4, MPs on the Liaison Committee say a profound rethink is required to break the cycle of siloed, short-term thinking that has come to dominate successive governments’ ways of working.

The Committee calls on the Government to provide a binding commitment to a physical campus for the establishment of a new ‘National School for Government and Public Services.’ This would develop a strong, shared culture of strategic thinking across government and share best practice across all grades of the Civil Service involved in policy and implementation. A programme of learning and professional development in strategic thinking, government ways of working and tools and skills for MPs should also be included.

The report calls on the next Government to set out the UK’s national strategy, underpinned by five or six key national strategic priorities, at the start of a new Parliament. This should be monitored and updated by the National Situation Centre and be subject to an annual report to Parliament. The Cabinet Office itself should be slimmed down to enable it to focus on these strategic priorities, with foresight analysis clearly connected to decision-making.

The inquiry heard powerful evidence that young people are becoming detached from democracy and more open to authoritarianism than previous generations. Failure to address long-term issues which impact their futures – such as housing, national debt, and climate concerns – is undermining their trust and engagement in the political system. In the interests of fairness between generations, it will be vital to include their voice and interests in decision-making.

Alongside the usual select committee scrutiny, a committee on national strategic priorities should be established in the next Parliament, specifically including the interests of future generations. The Committee for the Future would hold ministers and officials to account for government’s national strategy and ensure the culture changes required across Whitehall are achieved.

Chair's comments

The Chair of the Liaison Committee, Sir Bernard Jenkin MP, said:

“Getting Parliament and government to be more strategic than they have been over the past 20 or 30 years is vital to restoring public confidence in our entire democratic system, particularly among younger generations who will inherit the consequences of what governments do now. The next government should seize this offer from Parliament to support and scrutinise strategic thinking for the future.”

Further information

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