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The UK is uniquely balanced with our national capabilities to adapt to future global change - Sir Mark Sedwill

The UK is uniquely balanced with our national capabilities to adapt to future global change - Sir Mark Sedwill

Jeremy Hughes | PA Consulting

5 min read Partner content

Speaking at the defence and security round table supported by PA Consulting, Sir Mark Sedwill, Cabinet Secretary said that after Brexit, the UK needs to use national capabilities in the most coherent and effective way possible.

At the Cabinet Office on 70 Whitehall last month, senior civil servants and business leaders from across the defence and security sectors joined the Cabinet Secretary, National Security Adviser and Head of the Civil Service Sir Mark Sedwill, to discuss how to achieve a whole-system approach to UK national security.  

Opening the discussion, Sir Mark addressed the potential global challenges that the UK will have to adapt to. He outlined the shift to the Pacific and the evolution of the rules-based system, particularly into cyber space, as future challenges facing UK national security. 

Sedwill, a National Security Adviser, said outside of the traditional security concerns, global social changes such as population growth, intergenerational issues and the fourth industrial revolution, are having an impact on the sector.

Fusion Doctrine

Sedwill spoke of the UK’s “particular blend of national capabilities” to adapt to these changes in future. He described, for example, that in meeting both the 2% target for defence and 0.7% for international development, the UK is “uniquely balanced with our national capabilities.”

If the UK wants to punch its weight, he continued, the UK cannot just rely on hard or soft capabilities, but rather “need to bring those together to advance our national interest.” 

This is part of the whole-system approach, as launched last year in “The Fusion Doctrine”, the governments strategic response to the changing global landscape.

With the context of the UK leaving the EU, the “independent position in the world, that makes us both more open to new opportunities and also areas where we know we will have to work harder than we have done before.” There is a need, he explained, “to use all our national capabilities in the most coherent and effective way possible.”

Strategic relationships

Antonia Romeo, Permanent Secretary at the Department for International Trade, said that as we leave the EU, the UK needs a more “sophisticated” and “nuanced” set of partnerships.

Using the example of the recent negotiations with Japan, Sir Mark Sedwill said that they had progressed positively when a more strategic relationship was offered.

Air Vice-Marshall Andrew Turner, Assistant Chief of the Defence Staff (Operations) at the Ministry of Defence, said that using defence as a way of enabling the development of a relationship, as shown in the Japan example, should be a model for others. He asserted that defence can provide much more value to nation and that “we can get more bang for our buck if we can think more than 6 months ahead.”

Industry leaders at the discussion agreed that a more tailored approach to future relationships was essential. Richard Dingley, Managing Director, Government and Applied Intelligence at BAE Systems said: “We are fundamentally a small island state with massive reach… we need to pick our battle sand pick where we can be most successful.” 

Sir Mark agreed, saying “we can’t have frictionless trade with everybody and we are going to have to make some choices. We need input from sectors to help us identify best opportunities.”


Input from industry and the opportunity for collaboration between business, government departments and national security apparatus is seen as paramount.

Hugo Rosemont, Director of Security and Resilience at ADS, spoke of the need for industry to have “docking mechanisms” with government and said the “whole-of-government approach is important, and industry will really respond.”

Professor John Aston, Chief Scientific Adviser at the Home Office said, “in reality, many of new technologies are not going to come from a single company” and that there was a need for conversations between industry and government, at all levels.

The roundtable, which brought together 14 senior civil servants and business leaders from across the defence and security sectors, was commended as “exactly what we need more of” by Alex Chisholm, Permanent Secretary at the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. 

Fishing the talent pool 

Collaboration between government and industry is not limited to products. Such joint efforts are also integral to ensuring talent can be enhanced across the sector. 

Rachael Brassey, people and talent expert at PA Consulting spoke of how she sees “organisations fishing in the same talent pool, especially for cyber and digital skills.”

Government needed “buy in from the private sector,” said Antonia Romeo, “people need to feel that they will be rewarded for stint in public sector.”

AVM Turner said offering more people a “zig-zag” career, which would need a centralised vetting method, would present a “much more interesting lateral entry approach.”

Chairing the event, Susannah Brecknell, Co-Editor of Civil Service World magazine asked those around the table as industry and government leaders to conclude with one change that they will help happen. 

Victor Chavez, Chief Executive of Thales Group said this had been a “very useful conversation” and that he was “committed to engaging on a cross cutting basis.”

Andrew Turner said that we would look at “how we can make aircraft available to wider government to harness their power to lead foreign policy.”

Hugo Rosemont said he would “take the Fusion Doctrine to the industries we represent”, and Alan Lewis, Global Head of Defence and Security at PA Consulting said he was “committed to talking more about things that our clients are focussed on so that we have everyone joined together.”

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