UCL Policy Lab


Mission driven government can build a new era of collaboration and shared government

25 June 2024

Ahead of election day our Britain Renewed co-conveners discuss the potential of mission-led government and how to create best practice for delivering lasting change.

A panel discussion of four people

Authored by Britain Renewed co-conveners UCL Policy Lab and The Future Govenernce Froum. To find out more about Britain Renewed and to get involved please contact j.baggaley@ucl.ac.uk

Labour’s manifesto, launched last week, reiterates Keir Starmer’s commitment to mission-driven government. The document, pithily titled ‘Change’, sets out not just the how but also the who. It lays out a new vision for government that is joined up, purpose-led, and respects and harnesses the efforts of citizens, businesses, communities,and public servants as part of a national shared endeavour.

In anticipation of victory, one substantial enough to set its sights on two successive terms, attention now needs to turn to how to enact this vision in power. 

What does Labour need to do on day one and in week one to ensure that it can look back on its first hundred days with the confidence that mission-driven government becomes the default setting for the British state?

Press coverage has focused on how Labour’s missions might be governed, with the creation of cross-departmental missions boards, chaired by the Prime Minister. This is important signalling, and no approach to missions can succeed without genuine commitment from the Prime Minister as well as the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The effective marshalling of their time and energy will be necessary conditions for success, along with the emergence of new forums for ministerial collaboration and partnership across Whitehall, making government much more of a ‘team sport’.

However, missions are about what we might call the ‘radical how’ as well as the ‘change-making what’. They must act as the vehicle for doing government differently. The traditional approach to government which prevailed prior to the chaos of the post-2016 period will not meet the challenges of mid-century, and missions cannot just be a list of priorities or the reinforcement of what Whitehall knows best. As Keir Starmer has said on multiple occasions, too often the walls of Westminster have been too high. They have blocked the energy and ideas ready and waiting to be mobilised. Missions must help break out from the walls of Westminster and Whitehall. 

Missions should be an approach to government that promotes and entrenches long-termism, working in partnership with citizens, all sections of society and economy, and building new capacities and capabilities. Missions are not just about brokering agreements across central government but also about working beyond SW1, finding new ways of mobilising the country to meet the challenges we face. 

After all, the real question is not ‘how do we get Whitehall to function better?’, but ‘how do we build a national movement?’. Prime Ministerial time is a unique and precious commodity – do we want it focused on performance management (PM as chief executive) or do we want it focused on the north star of missions, shaping the culture of how we govern? We must avoid a re-heated Delivery Unit-style approach that requires direct involvement from Starmer to keep pressure up, resolve interdepartmental disputes, and expect that ministers and officials can do much of that themselves. 

Part of this new approach set out by Keir Starmer is a willingness to share ideas and to collaborate across government, research, and business. The UCL Policy Lab and The Future Governance Forum have, along with others, come together to create a set of principles we might apply to the design of governance and accountability, along with a set of practical, actionable suggestions for how to begin.


  • Orchestration as the government’s ‘missions mode’. Rather than steering or rowing, government needs to see its active role as creating the space for a wide network of different actors to collaborate in pursuit of missions, from civil society, trade unions and the private sector as well as citizens and frontline workers;
  • Create deep ownership and legitimacy – set and refine missions with citizens and non-governmental stakeholders to create a ‘thick’ consensus capable of sustaining effort across multiple political and funding cycles;
  • Solving problems together – missions need to stewarded by the government of the day to give direction, but they need to create conditions for bottom-up problem-solving, recognising that the knowledge and creativity exists at the coalface of different societal challenges, from decarbonisation to health inequality
  • Empower public servants - the missions’ ethos should centre the experience of workers who hold relationships with citizens on a day-to-day basis, giving them the tools and permission to do the right thing and solve problems working with the people they are there to help. Mission-driven leadership, political and official, should be about removing barriers to good public work. This can mean ensuring they have the right kit or ensuring their accountability processes don’t merely serve to assure senior leaders and enable them to get through a select committee or manage the media, but driving learning and outcomes. 

This new approach will take time to flesh out, it will need to take the right first steps, while also adapting and learning as it goes.

First steps

  • Establish the role of secretaries of state, ministers and permanent secretaries as mission stewards with mandate letters emphasising the need to mobilise a whole societal effort, working in partnership with communities, different tiers of government, and with business and civic society. Progression and reward, both for politicians and civil servants, needs to flow from this ethos.
  • Launch a deliberative process for each mission working with representative groups of citizens and stakeholders to validate the vision for each mission and build a collective theory of action that helps to activate different interests to drive the mission. This would set an agenda which would help deepen the legitimacy of each mission but also help design ongoing mechanisms for citizen involvement in the governance of missions.
  • Hold a Missions Leadership Council, chaired by the Prime Minister, in public each quarter and use this as a cadence of public story-telling, highlighting the government’s commitment and highlighting examples of public service that embody the mission-drive way of working and show the need.

Ultimately, delivering ambitious missions requires a mode of instinctive collaboration across the whole of government, a humility that the answers lie beyond SW1, and the processes and governance structures in place to enable those cultural and behavioural changes.

Authored by Britain Renewed co-conveners UCL Policy Lab and The Future Govenernce Froum. 

To find out more about Britain Renewed and to get involved please contact j.baggaley@ucl.ac.uk