Every so often I agree with something in the Daily Telegraph. It happened again today. I had to mark it somehow.
In the wake of a strategic defence review which has given us new aircraft carriers but no aircraft to launch from them, Philip Johnston has identified a lack of capacity to think strategically as a major failing of British government. The Public Admin Select Committee has come to the same conclusion: “We have all but lost the capacity to think strategically,” it said yesterday. “We have simply fallen out of the habit, and have lost the culture of strategy making.”
Conservative MP Bernard Jenkin was on the Today programme yesterday making the same point “We seem to be operating under the imperative of deficit reduction, there’s very little in what is being done now that really reflects deep and sustained analysis of what kind of country we want to be in ten or twenty years time. “
Hang on a minute while I climb on my high horse…
I had to smile when Jenkin said that a strategy “isn’t a document the government publishes and then sticks on a shelf” – this is, of course, exactly what a strategy is in many departments. When I was there, there was an almost mystical belief that the act of publishing a strategy absolved everyone from the burden of delivering it. I agreed with much of what Jenkin had to say, though – and have said quite a lot of it here in the past. Dangerous short-termism? Check. Cuts taking precedence over serious policy review? Why, yes. Lack of effective cross-departmental working in government? Yup, although the structures of government make that hard and things are getting better.
Jenkin was concerned that the strategic thinking module in the civil service training programme has been shrunk to one week. I’d argue that that hardly matters if we continue to cut the service to the bone – more short-term thinking. Oh, and one way of getting people to think strategically is to fund higher education so that subjects which teach people how to think (not just how to make money) survive. We need far more historians and Classicists in government! At least one of the Telegraph’s commenters seems to agree – almost. “What’s lacking in modern Britain IMHO is a professional, well-trained and remunerated civil service formulating long-term options” he said, adding ” and selling them to the government of the day” . Well, it is the Telegraph.