How can we shape up for national security?

28 September 2010

Parliament is looking at who owns "grand strategy" in the UK – is this an opportunity to apply our Shaping Up recommendations to national security issues?

The Institute’s Shaping Up report in January concluded that Whitehall needed to make some changes to be more effective. In particular, the centre needed to become more strategic and better mechanisms were needed to promote joined up working.

The Shaping Up analysis was largely based on looking at domestic policy.  But in parallel, we held a series of seminars with Libra Advisory Group on how government could organise better around national security issues.

This subject is now being looked at by the House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) in an inquiry on who is responsible for “Grand Strategy” in the UK. The Institute and Libra have submitted evidence drawing on the conclusions from the seminars we held.

Some of the conclusions fed into a new report, by Richard Teuten and Daniel Korski, prepared for the Royal United Services Institute on how the government promotes stability and prevents conflict in fragile states.

Those seminars showed that many of the conclusions from Shaping Up applied with equal force to national security issues:

1. The Cabinet Office should drive strategy and departmental collaboration

There was clear demand for the Cabinet Office, through a beefed up national security secretariat to take on a stronger, more proactive role driving cross departmental collaboration and creating a genuinely prioritised strategy.

Some building blocks have been put in place post-election, with the creation of the new permanent secretary post of national security adviser and the streamlining of the secretariats. It won’t be possible to judge how far that has really gone until we see the new National Security Strategy, the outcomes of the Strategic Defence and Security review and the Comprehensive Spending Review next month.

2. Clearer accountability is needed to make things happen

The second element, drawing on the success of the counter-terrorism strategy, was for much clearer accountability for making sure those priorities translate into action.  Lead departments would answer to the National Security Council (NSC), as per this model. (PDF, 70KB)

3. The need to overcome siloed budgets and align resources with government priorities

As recommended in Shaping Up, mechanisms are needed to overcome siloed budgets, and to better ensure the right balance between military and civilian spend, which is very important in stabilisation and reconstruction efforts.

The NSC should have oversight of spending allocations to make sure resources align with the strategy. Existing pooling mechanisms such as the Conflict Prevention Pool need to be expanded and made multi-year. Spending flows to countries should be better aligned with government priorities – Total Place becomes Total Pakistan.

And to overcome the unwillingness of departments to challenge each other’s spend, and give ministers a source of independent advice, government should consider the creation of a US-style classified institute to give Ministers access to external advice on security issues.

4. A more unified national security cadre

Shaping Up identified some real world barriers to joint working –  different IT  and HR systems to name but two. Many participants felt these needed to be addressed – but that there was also a need to build a cohesive internal cadre of national security experts – with more permeability with the outside world.

Neither Shaping Up, nor our report says anything about the role of Parliament in promoting better joining up in government. But as PASC asks itself who owns “grand strategy in government”, it might also ask itself who owns oversight of that in Parliament.

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  1. The Institute for Government Blog contains this excellent post – author Jill Rutter – which considers applying the conclusions of the Institute’s January 2010 report ‘Shaping Up – A Whitehall for the Future’ (available here) to the problem of national security….

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