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Promoting national strategy: How to improve strategic thinking in Whitehall

Written by Jonathan Shaw CB CBE
Jonathan Shaw
Written by Jonathan Shaw CB CBE
23 May 2024

Major General (Retd) Jonathan Shaw CB CBE was a specialist adviser to the committee of the House of Commonse

The report which was published on the 23rd May 2024 makes findings and recommendations about how select committees, and Parliament as a whole, can better promote and sustain coherent national strategy. This begs immediate questions, which we also address. What exactly is ‘strategy’; and what should Parliament be looking to find in government as evidence of coherent national strategy? There have been a number of select committee and other reports tackling these issues in the last two decades, and there now appears to be more appetite in Whitehall for addressing them, but the need to do so is now more urgent than ever, not only by Whitehall officials, but by Ministers and by Parliament, working together.

The UK faces an increasing number of serious immediate and escalating long- term strategic challenges and opportunities. They require a coordinated and sustained response across government, with cross-party support that transcends the electoral cycle, and often requiring collaboration with our international partners. The pace of change and the connectivity between issues is accelerating. This makes it harder for government to plan better for the future—not just for what can be foreseen, but also for the unexpected. Goals and solutions often take time to prepare, to resource and to implement. They require continuing strategic leadership, delivery and implementation across multiple Parliaments. This inquiry has examined the existing capacity and quality of strategic thinking and decision-making in government. It addresses how Parliament, through its select committees, can promote and encourage better national strategy.

A copy of the full report can be found here:

Major General (Retd.) Jonathan Shaw was formerly Assistant Chief of Defence Staff (International Security Policy), and Assistant Chief of Defence Staff (Global Issues).

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