New structure to help plan for long term

The Cabinet Office has established a new structure, chaired by cabinet secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood, to improve government’s long term planning, Civil Service World can reveal.

By Joshua.Chambers

25 Apr 2013

The move comes after Heywood last year commissioned a review into government ‘horizon scanning’ – a set of techniques used by departments to identify the potential risks and opportunities that might to arise in coming decades.

The review was conducted by Jon Day, chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee, and submitted to government at the end of 2012. It was declassified in January, and government has accepted its recommendations in full. A government spokesperson told CSW that the Cabinet Office “has been tasked with implementing these recommendations and is taking steps to improve and embed the collective capability for horizon scanning in the longer term.”

Day’s report said “there is weak integration between departments and with the policy agenda, particularly at a senior level.” He recommended that a new structure be established in the Cabinet Office to manage cross-government horizon scanning.

The new central body, now up and running, comprises two cross-government steering groups and a small secretariat. One steering group is chaired by Heywood and brings together the government’s chief scientific adviser, the Cabinet Office’s chief economist, and permanent secretaries and key officials from the Treasury, the Foreign Office, the business, health and international development departments, and the Ministry of Defence. It meets on a quarterly basis and will provide briefings to both the cabinet and the National Security Council.

Below this sits a group chaired by Day, comprising key horizon scanners from across government and meeting on a monthly basis. Both groups have the ability to commission cross-cutting pieces of work to ensure that government departments work together and plan for the future. Heywood’s group has commissioned a review into the effects of demographic change in the UK; Day’s group has just commissioned a review looking at the key technologies with implications for defence and security.

Day said that reform of horizon scanning is necessary because government does not do enough to plan for the long term. “Ministers and officials are too focussed on tactical issues and it can be a challenge to find time to engage them on issues which might not impact for anything up to 50 years, if at all,” Day wrote, calling on Heywood to “formally own horizon scanning and act as a champion”.

The new structure has been received positively by horizon scanners across government. Edward Ferguson, head of defence strategy and priorities at the Ministry of Defence, told CSW “this is really helpful and can only help make horizon scanning more coherent, more effective, and draw on a wider range of expertise.”

However, Bernard Jenkin, chair of the Public Administration Select Committee, was sceptical. He welcomed the review, which his committee called for last year, but told CSW: “I question whether this apparatus should be answerable to the cabinet secretary rather than to the cabinet as a whole”. He also said ministers should have a greater appetite for strategic thinking.

See Editorial and CSW’s feature on government horizon scanning

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