MPs say lack of government strategy causing 'mistakes'


Committee chairman and Conservative MP Bernard Jenkin: "This is a long-term problem"

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A lack of strategic thinking is leading to a "patch and mend" approach to policy-making, a group of MPs has said.

The Public Administration Committee said an absence of national strategy was leading to "mistakes" such as those following the recent Budget.

The aims set out in the coalition agreement were "too meaningless to serve any useful purpose", it added.

But the government said it had "a very clear objective to bring down the deficit" and restore economic growth.

Ministers have faced criticism in recent days for a number of policies announced in the Budget, including the cut in the top rate of income tax and the end to age-related tax allowances for pensioners.

The handling of a proposed strike by fuel tanker drivers and the deportation of terror suspect Abu Qatada have also made for a difficult period.

'Muddling through'

In a critical report, the committee said "the government's inability to express coherent and relevant strategic aims" was leading to mistakes in a number of areas.

Start Quote

We are taking forward an ambitious programme of radical reform”

End Quote Spokesman Cabinet Office

These included the rethink on Royal Navy aircraft carriers, the lower-than-anticipated economic growth and the likelihood that child poverty reduction targets will be missed.

"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," the report said.

The MPs warned that "chaotic strategy" - "muddling through" - risked creating a vicious circle, where weak leadership led to bad policy, further undermining public trust in government.

"The cabinet and its committees are capable of carrying out little more than a patch-and-mend to the policies which reflect differing departmental strategies and timescales," they said.

"The system makes ministers accountable for decisions, but makes it hard for individual ministers or the ministerial team to determine how decisions are considered from the outset.

"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."

'Public aspiration'

Chairman and Conservative MP Bernard Jenkin called on the government to publish a Statement of National Strategy in late spring or early summer each year.

He said 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," Mr Jenkin said.

"Failing to do so in the long term undermines national self-confidence, and in the short term could have catastrophic consequences."

Responding to the report, a Cabinet Office spokesman said: "The truth is the government has a very clear objective to bring down the deficit and get the economy growing again, creating jobs and opportunities for people across the county, while ensuring the protection and security of all our interests and citizens.

"In parallel with that, we are taking forward an ambitious programme of radical reform in education, welfare, health and local government, which will give power and choice to individuals and their communities."

But shadow Cabinet Office minister Michael Dugher, said the report was a "damning indictment of David Cameron's government".

"He should get a grip of his out of touch Government, change course and stop making hard-pressed pensioners and families pay the price for his incompetence," Mr Dugher said.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 1018.

    This is a much deeper problem- it appears that none of the EU leaders have any vision or clear strategies to solve the economic situation. It seems that current leaders are too afraid to take the bold measures necessary to make a difference.

  • rate this

    Comment number 626.

    This government is in a damned if you do and a damned if you don't situation, we are now getting the full back lash of Labour financial mismanagement along with a bad foreign policy the two arriving together does not bode well for this country!! I do not think that this government is man enough or woman enough for that matter to sort things out.. It's as weak as weak tea!!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 614.

    Totally agree - this govt and recent govts have tended to focus on short term tactics and soundbites.

    Love her or hate her the only govt in my lifetime that had a clear strategy was the Thatcher govt. They definitely had a clear plan and depending on your view it was carried out either with conviction or with ruthlessness.

  • rate this

    Comment number 386.

    Any govt has to balance between long term reforms and sort term measures to keep the electorate happy. If they started plan for 30-50 years ahead and execute reforms with no immediate visibility to electorate they would have been kicked out in the next election. People need panem et circenses, not long term reforms. Hence the pupulism.
    Some parties however (like Labor) do nothing but populism

  • rate this

    Comment number 227.

    I am a small independent retailer. I am at the sharp end of the economy I get what people feel they are able to afford from their pockets. In the last two months trade has collapsed to a degree I have never seen. No strategy ? They never had any and if I had set out to destroy consumer confidence .. I don't think I could have done a better job than this Government.


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