UK Politics

MPs say lack of government strategy causing 'mistakes'

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.

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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