Civil service needs ‘culture shift’ warns national security adviser

Stephen Lovegrove says departments should be more open to outside voices on security issues
Sir Stephen Lovegrove Credit: Louise Haywood-Schiefer for CSW

By Jim Dunton

20 Sep 2021

National security adviser Sir Stephen Lovegrove has said central government needs to open itself up to a more diverse range of voices to inform policymaking on security issues.

Lovegrove’s comments came in a speech to a virtual event hosted by the Council on Geostrategy, in which the former Ministry of Defence perm sec spoke of the need to create a culture of “genuine insight and long-term thinking” across the UK national security community.

He praised the vision behind the government’s Integrated Review of security, defence, development and foreign policy and the funding committed in last year’s Spending Review, which he said would “cement” the UK’s place as the “largest defence spender in Europe”.

But Lovegrove, who became national security adviser at the beginning of April, said the financial and military investment also needed to be accompanied by an intellectual investment in strategic thinking to drive integration across government.

“The UK is renowned as a thought leader and is envied for its ability to bring together the instruments of power. But we must not rest on our laurels,” he said.

“That is why I have strengthened the strategic capability in the National Security Secretariat, and why I know MoD and FCDO are doing the same.

“I want to drive a culture across the UK national security community of genuine insight and long-term thinking.

“I want to ensure that we are well prepared to address the full range of threats we face at home and overseas, and build our resilience to these threats.”

Lovegrove said he wanted to ensure the UK realised the vision of an adaptive approach to the challenges the UK faces that was set out in the Integrated Review.

He added that he also wanted to ensure that the Cabinet Office was “properly working across government” to champion thought-leadership and to set the agenda.

“We need new voices in the national security debate – a generational refresh and new types of expertise from subject matter knowledge of rising powers in Asia to the cross-over advice from world-class technical experts,” Lovegrove said.

“This will require a substantial cultural shift within the civil service to be far more open to bringing external voices into the policymaking process.”

He added that there were lessons the government could learn from groups like the Council on Geostrategy, which was founded earlier this year by James Rogers and Viktorija Starych-Samuolienė.

The non-profit organisation describes itself as aiming to “shape British strategic ambition in a way that empowers the United Kingdom to succeed and prosper in the 21st century”.

It counts Defence Select Committee chair Tobias Ellwood, Foreign Affairs Select Committee chair Tom Tugendhat and national-security expert Baroness Pauline Neville-Jones among its advisory council.

The full text of Lovegrove's speech to the invitation-only event can be read here.

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