APPENDIX 3: THE EVOLUTION OF THE CENTRE |
The Development of Central Government
Prior to the mid-nineteenth century, there was no
clear or consistent structure to central government in Britain.
The 1854 Northcote-Trevelyan Report laid the foundations for the
creation of a professional Civil Service. It also enshrined the
architectural arrangements of Whitehall based on a model of functionally
distinct departments, the principle of which still remains intact.
The cornerstone of the Report was that the Civil Service should
be unified. This raised the issue of how best to co-ordinate the
activities of each department across Whitehalla theme that
has transcended the subsequent 165-year history of central government
Northcote-Trevelyan's advocacy of functionally separate
yet unified departments gave rise to a particular set of institutional
arrangements. Over time, it was departments and not the central
units of British government that became increasingly resource-rich
and powerful. Throughout the twentieth century, departments developed
the necessary expertise and organisational capability to command
control of policy within their functional sphere. A consequence
of this was an emergent need for the strengthening of the co-ordinating
mechanisms at the centre of Whitehall.
The various co-ordinating mechanisms that have evolved
are based on the principle of Cabinet government. Constitutionally,
the Cabinet is regarded as the formal location of power in the
British political system. In practice, the Cabinet and the Cabinet
committee system operate as a means both to enforce the principle
of collective Cabinet government on ministers and their respective
departments and as a mechanism to resolve interdepartmental conflicts.
The formalisation of this system mainly took place in the early
twentieth century, first with the formal creation of the Cabinet
Office in 1916 and subsequently in the reforms stemming from the
1918 Report of the Machinery of Government: Ministry of Reconstruction
by Lord Haldane.
The First World War was the catalyst for change,
creating a pressure for modernisation. As the former Cabinet Secretary,
Lord Hunt of Tamworth observed, prior to 1914 "Cabinet was
a fairly leisurely process. The number of things government was
involved in was fairly limited
Cabinets met infrequently
without a secretariat."
The December 1916 Cabinet crisis and with it the replacement of
Asquith with Lloyd George as Prime Minister led to the creation
of a War Cabinet. It was the precursor to what was subsequently
to become the Cabinet Office and its role was to provide overall
direction to the war effort.
Under Lloyd George's new model of government, the
businesslike procedure of the War Committee was applied to the
War Cabinet, and in due course the Cabinet Secretariat became,
in peacetime, a permanent institution.
The Lloyd George reforms led to the Cabinet Office
being formally conferred with responsibility to co-ordinate policy
and offer strategic direction to government. But its subsequent
history throughout the twentieth century has been shaped by, at
times, an uneasy relationship with the other main co-ordinating
units in central government. Key amongst these bodies is the Treasury.
Our perception of the Treasury's role, the concept of Treasury
"control" and the omnipotence of the "Treasury
view" all derive from post-First World War reform and reorganisation.
New wartime ministries had been created by Acts of Parliament
that vested control over spending and staffing with the individual
ministers rather than with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. To
restore control, a Treasury minute empowered its own Permanent
Secretary, as Head of the Civil Service and adviser to the Prime
Minister, to recommend all senior Civil Service appointments.
An Order in Council also gave the Treasury power to regulate the
whole establishment, classification, remuneration and conditions
of service, so paving the way for a uniformly trained and staffed
British Civil Service. Ultimately, Treasury control was reinforced
by a minute requiring all departmental spending submissions to
be put to the Treasury before going to the Cabinet. Internal reorganisation
established three branches: home, supply (public expenditure)
and establishment (organisation, manpower and pay of the entire
i) Improving the co-ordination of departmental
There have been numerous attempts throughout the
last fifty years to bolster the centre of government and to improve
the co-ordination of departmental activity.
Between 1951 and 1953, the Churchill Government experimented
with a system of "overlords", drawn from the House of
Lords to oversee and co-ordinate the activities of different departments
and spheres of interest.
During the 1960s and 1970s, "super-ministries"
and new central co-ordinating units became fashionable, in an
attempt to effect a more joined-up approach to policy-making.
It was hoped that this would help the Cabinet to develop a broader
strategic overview of the Government's programme and militate
against the outbreak of "departmentalism". The Heath
Government also established the Central Policy Review Staff (CPRS)
within the Cabinet Office, effectively modelled on US-style "think-tanks":
to provide a broad overview of the direction of general government
policy; where necessary, to challenge the traditional views of
Whitehall departments; and to undertake in-depth studies crossing
departmental boundaries, for example in energy conservation, the
British motor industry and race relations.
After 1979, the overarching theme of the Conservative
administration's programme of government reform was a perceived
need to impose ministerial control over the policy-making process
in Whitehall and to bring what it regarded as the discipline of
the market to the public sector. The reforms, though rather incremental
in nature, were intended to enhance the co-ordinating capability
of the centre. However, some critics argued that they contributed
to the increasing fragmentation and complexity of Whitehall.
In the first phase, a variety of managerialist reforms
were introducedRayner scrutinies (1979-1982) (a series
of scrutiny exercises conducted across Whitehall by an Efficiency
Unit team located in the Cabinet Office but reporting directly
to the Prime Minister), the Financial Management Initiative (1982-84)
and Next Steps Agencies (after 1988)in an attempt to impose
greater financial and political disciplines on departmental activity.
Collectively, they transformed the way Whitehall operated. In
particular, agencification (the creation of semi-autonomous satellite
agencies, detached from departments but with responsibility to
deliver public services), based on a principal-agent model, was
an attempt to enhance the effectiveness of policy-making. It left
a smaller core of officials in Whitehall departments to concentrate
on policy-making, while semi-detached agencies in the field took
responsibility for delivery. Yet these reforms did not abandon
the Northcote-Trevelyan principle of "functional departments"
and the tendency for each to operate in a hierarchical, sometimes
The second phase of reforms, after 1990, saw various
attempts to address the two-fold issue of departmentalism (departments
defending their own turf) and policy-making being conducted in
silos (i.e. only in a vertical not horizontal manner). Various
initiatives, including two Continuity and Change White
Papers (1994, 1995) and the Senior Management Review (1995),
were aimed at strengthening the horizontal and strategic links
both across Whitehall and beyond to include service deliverers
in the field, and more specifically to counter the hierarchical
culture in Whitehall.
All the various reform initiatives in Whitehall from
1945-97 were conditioned by the enduring principle established
by Northcote-Trevelyan of strong, functionally distinct, yet unified
departments. The reforms pursued during this period reflect the
challenge confronting the various units at the centre of government
charged with responsibility to ensure effective co-ordination
ii)Relations at the centre
Relations between the three units making up the centre
of Government (the Cabinet Office, the Prime Minister's Office
and the Treasury) have varied over time. The nature of the relationship
between the Cabinet Office and the Prime Minister's Office has
really only come under scrutiny in recent times, prompted by the
rise of a debate over "presidentialism" and the greater
resources now found at Number 10 compared to a decade ago.
Reform of central government since 1997
The forces shaping contemporary government are different
from thirty years ago. Numerous factors have changed the modern
face of politics: globalisation; post-9/11 security; a 24/7 media
news cycle; the increasing network of relations between the UK
Government and supra-national organisations such as the G8, the
G20 and the European Union; and greater complexity in governing
through processes such as devolution and agencification.
The Labour Government came to office with a perception
that the challenge of effective, co-ordinated policy-making had
become an increasingly difficult task. This issue was compounded
by the view that departments had responded by becoming more insular,
hierarchical and inward-looking in their approach to policy-making
in order to try to secure their own interests. As Tony Blair observed
a year after coming to office:
"Many parts of the civil service culture are
still too hierarchical and inward looking ... We need to think
also about the structures in which we make people work. Often
they frustrate more than they enable ... Joined-up government
... I believe this is one of the greatest challenges. We owe it
to citizens to focus on what needs to be done, not on protecting
our turf. More and more that will require working across boundaries
... It [Whitehall] needs to become more open, and responsibility
needs to be devolved. Reinventing government to remedy these failures
is a key part of our constitutional reform agenda."
The Labour administration argued that the growth
of departmentalism in Whitehall had eroded the ability of the
executive to operate in a single, unified, co-ordinated manner
across the policy spectrum: "Too often, the work of Departments,
their agencies and other bodies has been fragmented and the focus
of scrutiny has been on their individual achievements rather than
on their contribution to the Government's overall strategic purpose".
Prior to entering office, Tony Blair outlined Labour's chosen
strategy: "People have to know that we will run from the
centre and govern from the centre".
The Labour Government's solution to the problem of fragmentation
was to pursue reforms focused on restructuring the co-ordinating
units at the centre and fortifying their resources.
The Labour administration's reform strategy since
1997 is epitomised by two key publications: first, Modernising
Government (1999), which established what was to become a
familiar theme of Labour's approach to reforman emphasis
on "joined-up government"; second, a strategy document
by the Performance and Innovation Unit, Wiring It Up: Whitehall's
Management of Cross-Cutting Policies and Services (2000).
This outlined the Labour administration's approach to joined-up
government, arguing for the need to reconnect the various elements
of the machinery of government. This was to be achieved by "using
to lead the drive to more effective cross-cutting
approaches wherever they are needed. The centre has a critical
role to play in creating a strategic framework in which cross-cutting
working can thrive, supporting departments and promoting cross-cutting
Government's subsequent agenda, outlined in a number of key official
a model of strong central control based on reforming Number 10,
the Cabinet Office and the Treasury. This table highlights some
of the key changes that have taken place:
|Key Structural Reforms Post-1997
|1997-01||Office of Public Service merged into the Cabinet Office;
Unit-buildingestablishment of the Centre for Management and Policy Studies, Performance and Innovation Unit (later the Strategy Unit), Social Exclusion Unit, Women's Unit, Regulatory Impact Unit, and Anti-Drugs Coordination Unit.
|2001-2||Establishment of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister within the Cabinet Office;
Various changes following the events of September 11 2001, including the creation of the post of Security and Intelligence Co-ordinator.
|2002-7||Establishment of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister as an independent department (this Office has since been abolished);
Creation of the Delivery and Reform Group to strengthen the capacity of the Cabinet Office and to provide a strategic lead at the centre of Government;
A new Civil Service Strategy Board replacing the Cabinet Office Management Board.
|Post-2007||Emphasis on structural changes to improve policy and security /intelligence functions and to assist the Cabinet Office, Number 10 and the Treasury to work closer together e.g. advisers to the PM on European and Global Issues, Foreign and Defence Policy, and Domestic Policy moved from Number 10 to the Cabinet Office.
Newly-created post of Permanent Secretary for Number 10 to provide greater cohesion between the Cabinet Office and Number 10.
Beyond reforming the institutional arrangements at the centre,
the Labour Government also introduced a number of mechanisms and
tools of government aimed at bolstering the ability of the centre
to co-ordinate and control the activities of departments and the
various service delivery agencies. Since 1997, there has been
a growth in targets and audit mechanismsinitiatives which
are sometimes used to help the centre maintain control over both
departments and the growing number of delivery agenciesfor
example the establishment of Public Service Agreements (30 signed
in 2007), and the introduction of the Comprehensive Spending Review,
in which the Treasury in conjunction with the Prime Minister's
Delivery Unit set 3-year departmental expenditure limits through
Public Service Agreements.
22 For example, the pre-war system of Cabinet operated
with no agenda, minutes or a secretary. Back
Cf. P.Hennessy (1989) Whitehall London: Fontana, p 63. Back
T.Blair, (1998) Modernising Central Government Speech to
the Senior Civil Service Conference London, 13 October 1998. Back
Cm 4310 (1999) Modernising Government London: The Stationery
Office, p 12. Back
Quoted from D. Richards (2008) New Labour and the Civil Service:
Reconstituting the Westminster Model Basingstoke: Palgrave
Cabinet Office (2000) Wiring It Up-Whitehall's Management of
Cross-Cutting Policies and Services London: Stationery Office,
p 5. Back
See for example: Cm 4310 (1999) Modernising Government
London: Stationary Office, Cabinet Office (2000) Wiring It
Up-Whitehall's Management of Cross-Cutting Policies and Services
London: Stationery Office. Cabinet Office (2002) Organising
to Deliver http://www.cabinet-office.gov.uk/innovation/2000/delivery/organisingtodeliver/content.htm,
Cabinet Office (2004) Civil Service Reform, Delivery and Value:
Transforming Public Service-A Civil Service that Delivers
London: Cabinet Office, HM Treasury (2006) Service Transformation:
A Better Service for Citizens and Businesses, a Better Deal for
the Taxpayer London: Stationery Office. Back