24 04 2012

The Public Administration Select Committee has today published a report which is deeply critical of the Government’s ability when it comes to strategy.

While this is old news as far as Cowan Global are concerned, we’ve been stating as much for months, the Government’s response suggests that still no one is listening.

The Parliamentary Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) has today published a report; ‘Strategic Thinking in Government: without National Strategy, can viable Government strategy emerge?’

The report tells us that a lack of strategic thinking is leading to a “patch and mend” approach to policy making and that an absence of national strategy was leading to mistakes such as those following the recent budget.

In an appraisal which presents nothing new to regular readers of this blog, the report also states that the aims set out in the Coalition agreement were too meaningless to serve any meaningful purpose.

You might be mistaken in thinking the PASC is an opposition led group. In fact it is a cross party committee chaired by Conservative MP Bernard Jenkin who states; “this is a long-term problem.”

In a scathing analysis of the Government’s strategic ineptitude the PASC report expresses concern at the Government’s “inability to express coherent and relevant strategic aims.” The report goes on; “This factor also militates against clear thinking about presentation, which was evident in the aftermath of the Budget and in response to the possibility of industrial action by tanker drivers.”

As an analysis of the Government’s knowledge of and ability to devise and deliver strategy, the report does not stop there stating; “There remains a critical unfulfilled role at the centre of government in coordinating and reconciling priorities, to ensure that long-term and short-term goals are coherent across departments.”

PASC Chairman Jenkin called on the Government to publish a statement of National Strategy in late spring or early summer each year saying it could introduce the next Budget process and make clear how specific policy measures announced in the following months tied in with long-term objectives.

“This is not about abdicating policy-making to opinion polls, but national strategy must appreciate what sort of country the public aspires for the UK to be,” he said. “Failing to do so in the long-term undermines national self-confidence, and in the short-term could have catastrophic consequences.”

It makes damning reading and reinforces the numerous examples of poor strategic thinking from government all too frequently reported on this blog. However, what the report does not ask (and therefore answer) are two key questions:

Does the Government understand what good strategy is and, if not, where are they taking their advice on strategy from?

The clear evidence of recent months and years is that the majority of politicians (not just the Government) have a poor understanding of good strategy. The danger is that they do not realise this and therefore are not taking action to remedy the problem. They think they are expert where, in reality, they are far from being so.

This is demonstrated by the choices made when seeking advice. Until recently the Prime Minister’s strategy advisor was Steve Hilton, a leading ‘Blue-Sky thinker’ but far from strategy expert. At least Hilton’s appointment suggested recognition of the need for sound advice however since his departure the PM has chosen not to replace him.

In response to the PASC report, this low on understanding and sound advice government has said it has “a very clear objective to bring down the deficit and restore economic growth.”

They could not have given a more clear demonstration of their lack of understanding, yet again, quite clearly confusing goals with strategy.

Footnote 1:

While this author welcomes the report I am disappointed that the PACS report does not recognise the inherent flaws in the policy of ‘Initiativeitis’ employed by both the previous and current governments and now widespread in its application. It is a policy which demonstrates better than any other the poor understanding of strategy evident at Westminster.

Footnote 2:

In 1999 Justin Kruger and David Dunning (Cornell University) published ‘Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognising One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments.” (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 1999, Vol 77, No 6, 1121-1134) In their concluding remarks they state; “We propose that those with a limited knowledge in a domain suffer a dual burden: Not only do they reach mistaken conclusions and make regrettable errors, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realise it.” In short without a critical friend, without skilled, knowledgeable advisors, the Government are operating in exactly the space defined by Kruger and Dunning; that of the unskilled and unaware.

Read the full PACS Report here.

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, April 2012

Read more blogs by Jim Cowan

Twitter @cowanglobal



2 responses

25 04 2012
Ken Russell

Hardly surprising really ! Cameron is neither a leader nor even an experienced senior manager but possesses all the worst traits of a politician. Even as a life long Conservative supporter I have to agree entirely with the views recently expressed by Nadine Dorris. Even worse still is the accuracy of the comment that our senior government people are operating as a bunch of unskilled and unaware individuals. The word incompetence is spot on !

25 04 2012

Thanks for taking the time to comment Ken. Sadly, this is no party problem but one widespread in Westminster. There appears no sign that this self-appointed group of experts will change any time soon.

I’m reminded of a recent seminar when a member of the audience informed me she had a strategy. “How do you judge whether it is a good strategy?” I asked. “What’s the difference? she replied!

Too many assume having strategy is the same as having good strategy – governments included!

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