MPs launch probe into cross-Whitehall strategic thinking

Liaison Committee will examine how well government identifies opportunities, as well as risks and threats
Sir Bernard Jenkin

By Jim Dunton

22 Jun 2023

Members of parliament’s top scrutiny committee are set to investigate the way government handles the development, delivery and updating of key strategic plans across departments – with a view to boosting the level of challenge faced by ministers and senior officials.

The Liaison Committee, which brings together the chairs of all of the House of Commons select committees, said some of the “most concerning” issues facing the UK could span several parliaments and that the inquiry would ensure parliament could provide “constructive, cross-party oversight”.

The committee said select committees that cover individual departments could find it difficult to access information about government work that lies beyond the remit of their own ministers.

It said the inquiry planned to focus on a “small number” of case studies where the response to strategic challenges spanned departmental boundaries to explore how select committees can better hold government to account for learning from experience and improving planning.

According to the Liaison Committee, potential areas for consideration include the UK’s net-zero commitments and the need to maintain energy security; balancing the UK’s domestic security and prosperity; and the growth potential and risks posed by artificial intelligence.

Committee chair Sir Bernard Jenkin said major events like Brexit, the Covid-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had demonstrated the need for long-term planning and delivery across multiple departments.

“As the pace of events over recent years have shown, the government needs to be more agile in its ambition – and it should also be coordinated across departments and sustainable over time,” he said.

“Select committees provide a mirror to government policy and practice. Their work has demonstrated the value of cross-party checks and balances on departmental strategic thinking.

“This inquiry will consider how select committees can improve scrutiny of strategic thinking in government as the UK confronts the major questions we face in the near and longer-term future.

“Better scrutiny of strategic thinking by parliament will contribute to better strategic thinking within government.”

The Liaison Committee’s terms of reference for the inquiry seek examples of best practice in strategic thinking in government, including how feedback loops are used to ensure that lessons from delivery are fully considered when future strategic plans are development.

It also wants to hear thoughts on how No.10 and the Cabinet Office should lead on strategic thinking across government, and how much detail government should publish about its “overall strategic concept”.

Other areas of interest include additional machinery of government, knowledge and skills that are believed to be necessary for supporting strategic thinking and effective strategy and delivery – both within individual departments or across two or more departments.

The Liaison Committee is also interested in evidence on which governments around the world have demonstrated best practice in strategic thinking.

The committee is accepting written evidence for the inquiry until 15 September.

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