The Global outlook

The views of Public Sector leaders

Every year, Deloitte and Reform interview leaders from across government and the public sector to inform The State of the State. This year, we have interviewed more than 50 senior figures in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, including permanent secretaries, senior civil servants, police leaders, university vice-chancellors, NHS chief executives, council chief executives, agency directors, finance chiefs and more. These interviews form the most extensive qualitative research of its kind and allow for an unparalleled view of the public sector’s central challenges from the people who know them best.

For governments, the world has become more competitive and less predictable

Brexit has inevitably put a spotlight on the UK’s diplomatic, trading and security relations. Some of our interviewees described global developments – and not just Brexit – that are affecting the UK’s place in the world and together they suggest the world has become more competitive and less predictable for its governments.

Several senior officials noted geopolitical developments with significant ramifications for the state. They included the emergence of new technologies like artificial intelligence that could reshape labour markets, the apparent move towards greater protectionism in trade, the rise of populist politics around the world, the prospect of a shift in economic power from West to East and the implications of social media on society and news. As several interviewees noted, none of the shifts are rooted in Brexit. Analysts agree that the UK’s security and defence landscape has shifted significantly in the past decade. Relations with Russia have become more strained, Brexit has raised questions on European co-operation and the terrorist threat has evolved substantially – from complex attacks organised by a closed network to low-tech attacks by people who self-select to associate with a terror ideology. Interviewees from the police were clear that international terrorism remains a major concern for them, while a defence leader told us that the threat level from other states has now risen as well.

Economically, leaders that we interviewed from the UK’s regions were highly focused on attracting foreign investment. One argued that Whitehall must compete with other administrations in their agility and eagerness to attract business to their regions, citing the German government and South East Asian governments as particularly fleet of foot.

The UK’s universities are of course highly exposed to EU and global markers for their students, their academic talent and their research funding. The vice chancellors we interviewed felt that government is underestimating higher education’s importance to the UK’s post-EU future, and should recognise their global pull. Interviewees in Whitehall concurred that the UK’s world-renowned higher education is one in-built advantage that could help the UK through the challenges of Brexit.

Explore the views of Public Sector leaders on global outlook:

  • There are huge, global shifts in trade and technology that are nothing to do with Brexit, but Brexit makes them more difficult for us – Senior Civil Servant
  • In defence, there’s a very changed background. Our capability can’t just focus on counter terrorism anymore, but state-on-state attacks – Departmental Non-Executive
  • We’re never been in a time where predictability has been more difficult. Predictability has effectively vanished. All you can do is configure yourself to be adaptive to whatever – Departmental Non-Executive
  • International terror is not going to go away – Police Leader
  • Political uncertainty and instability is all over Europe, and that’s a factor for businesses to think about – Senior Civil Servant
  • We face considerable threats, not least the greater levels of protectionism and the prospect of a global slowdown on the back of it. We are institutions that are globally facing – University Vice Chancellor
  • We’re competing with Germany, with the Far East, and their governments will bend over backwards for business. Our government is too laissez-faire. Other governments will look at an offer from business and take their hand off – Regional Leader
  • There are lots of governments in South East Asia pumping money into their universities. The problem is that students don’t want to come to dilapidated buildings, they want everything shiny, and they feel entitled to that because they are paying university fees – University Director
  • The UK has got a great education system, we’re entrepreneurial, we’ve got a great, global capital city. Yes, we’re in a difficult situation but we’ll get through that – Senior Civil Servant

Qualitative research of this kind explores individual opinions, and the views expressed by our interviewees are very clearly their own. The State of the State reports on their views – it does not endorse them.

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