Whitehall: capacity to address future challenges: evidence call

11 September 2014

The Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) invites written evidence on the issue of Whitehall’s capacity to address future challenges, ahead of oral evidence sessions on this topic later in the year.

PASC is carrying out an inquiry into Whitehall’s capacity to anticipate, to analyse, to assess, and to respond to the most significant challenges (risks and opportunities) facing the UK in the next decade or so. This will include scrutinising Whitehall capabilities for foresight and for reaction to the unforeseen, as well as the adequacy of current capabilities, the need for new capabilities in the future, and the conduct of strategy and leadership.

The inquiry aims to

  • scrutinise how Whitehall identifies the most important challenges facing the UK in the next 20 years
  • scrutinise the machinery of government’s preparedness to meet these challenges
  • consider the barriers to anticipating and effectively planning for future challenges
  • consider ways of overcoming these barriers

PASC will reflect on to what extent the UK Civil Service has been successful in anticipating major challenges in recent years and consider what has been learned. It will review the key challenges and the preparedness of the Civil Service to meet these key challenges. The inquiry will consider the tension between short-term and long-term priorities and the relationship between Minister and civil servants. It will consider Whitehall’s capability to develop effective policy and operational responses to large-scale long-term problems. It will consider current good and poor practice in the Civil Service’s understanding of the future challenges facing the UK.

PASC would like to hear views on

  1. How well placed the Civil Service is for the most important challenges facing the UK in the next 20 years.
  2. How well the Civil Service supports Government to identify the most important challenges of the future.
  3. The factors affecting the quality of planning and preparedness for the challenges of the future.
  4. The improvements and changes needed within the Civil Service so that it can meet the challenges of the future.


PASC has previously inquired into the strategic challenges facing the UK Government. In April 2012 the Committee published a Report ‘Strategic thinking in Government: without National Strategy, can viable Government strategy emerge? (PDF 1.25 MB)’ and in October 2010 ‘Who does UK National Strategy? (PDF 1.5 MB)’. The Committee concluded that to tackle the UK’s complex, diverse and unpredictable domestic and global challenges, Government requires strategic leadership. It had little confidence that Government policies were informed by a clear, coherent strategic approach.

Meanwhile, the Government is implementing the Civil Service Reform Plan, published June 2012, which aims to bring about ‘profound change and adaptation’ in response to ‘unprecedented challenges’. The Government says that these will bring about ‘a more open and flexible organisation. We will be more focussed, we will do fewer things, but we will do them better.’

Recent developments

In July the Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre (DCDC) of the Ministry of Defence published ‘Global Strategic Trends out to 2045’, describing the strategic context for those in Government involved in developing long term plans, policies and capabilities. Other Government departments are engaged in horizon scanning activity and since March 2014 a central horizon scanning coordination team has been based in the Cabinet Office.

The Science and Technology Selection Committee published a Report in May 2014 on Government Horizon Scanning. The Committee welcomed the Government’s establishment of the new cross-departmental horizon scanning hub, but criticised its lack of transparency and openness. This inquiry aims to build on the Inquiry, looking across the Civil Service and abroad for good practice.

How to respond

Please submit your response by no later than midday on 22 October 2014 through the inquiry page.

To discuss any aspect of your submission, email or phone 020 7219 4112.

Please note that

  • Submissions should be original work, not previously published or circulated elsewhere, though previously published work can be referenced in a submission and submitted as supplementary material.
  • Once submitted, evidence is the property of the Committee. The material you submit must be kept confidential until it is published by the Committee, unless earlier publication is specifically authorised.
  • The Committee normally, though not always, chooses to make public the written evidence it receives, by publishing it on the internet (where it will be searchable), by printing it or by making it available through the Parliamentary Archives. If there is any information you believe is sensitive you should highlight it and explain what harm you believe would result from its disclosure. The Committee will take this into account in deciding whether to publish or further disclose the evidence.
  • Submissions, which are accepted by the Committee as written evidence, can in some cases be published anonymously. If you would prefer your submission to be anonymous please discuss this with Committee staff.
  • Select Committees are unable to accept evidence which relates to individual cases or to investigate individual cases.

The information you supply will be processed in accordance with the provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998 for the purposes of: a) obtaining written evidence for the inquiry b) to clarify any queries around the information contained in your evidence c) to contact you to provide updates as to the progress of your evidence. The Clerk of the House of Commons is the data controller for the purposes of the Act. We may ask you to give us some feedback on the process of submitting evidence so that we can look to make further improvements. If you have any queries or concerns about the collection and use of this information or do not wish for your details to be used for this purpose, please advise Committee staff providing your full name, and contact details.

Further information

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