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Security strategy 'needs experts'

New strategies for dealing with the threats Britain faces will be damaged by the coalition's failure to carry out the necessary groundwork for the plans, MPs and peers have warned.

Ministers in the next government will have to draw up a revised National Security Strategy (NSS) in an "unnecessary rush" because ministers have not carried out the preparatory work with experts, the joint committee found.

The five-year NSS set out in the months after the coalition took power put terrorism and cyber-attacks as well as large scale accidents and natural hazards among the potential problems facing the UK but some of the "threats have changed", the committee found.

It called for the new blueprint to deal with emerging risks such as pandemics and climate change as well as resilience, deterrence and defence, warning that "existential threats" may be a bigger issue by 2020.

The strategy must also make a " realistic" assessment of the UK's international influence "rather than a statement of political intent that may be impossible to fulfil", the committee's report found.

Prime Minister David Cameron has previously said the NSS needs a "refresh" rather than a complete overhaul but MPs insisted the document needs a "thorough revisit" to take in account developments internationally.

They also called for the next NSS to be "more strategic" after complaints that the 2010 version lacked such a key component.

The report states: "W e are disappointed that the current Government has not undertaken more preparatory expert consultation for the next NSS: it has missed a valuable opportunity to prepare the NSS over a reasonable period of time, and to involve Parliament, the public and outside experts in its work. Leaving so much to be done until after the general election will mean an unnecessary rush which can only damage the quality of the strategy."

The Government is "too passive" when it comes to leading the public debate on security issues and should b e "prepared to do what it takes to get the public behind the measures that are needed to keep this country safe", the committee found.

MPs and peers also raised concerns about the damage being done to Britain's diplomatic efforts as a result of cuts to the Foreign Office budget.

The Government's capacity to provide intelligence and insights into other countries "has suffered from successive cuts in expenditure", the report states.

Margaret Beckett, who chairs the committee, said: "We are very keen to see the next NSS acting as a truly useful document for cross-government security planning, particularly as a tool to allow for flexible policy, taking into account potential developments in domestic and international affairs.

" We have urged the Government to engage with a range of people - experts, the public and our committee - when preparing the NSS, and also to take an active role in public engagement, to ensure that the British public understand the thinking behind our national security strategy."

A Government spokeswoman said: "This Government's top priority is to make sure we do everything possible to keep our people safe.

"Departments across Whitehall have begun preparatory work for the next National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review but as it will set out our policy on national security for the next five years it is right that the review itself will take place after the general election.

"The National Security Council routinely works with experts at both official and ministerial level. Academics, think tanks and international partners were consulted during the last review.

"Decision on the final scope or approach for the next review will be taken after the election but clearly experts will be consulted."


From Belfast Telegraph