Reshuffle: Time Government went on a diet and cut the fat off departments

It is said, “too many cooks spoil the broth”. The same could be said of Her Majesty’s Cabinet

Time for the government to stop the binge?
Nic Conner
On 3 September 2012 11:42

It is said, “too many cooks spoil the broth”. The same could be said of Her Majesty’s Cabinet. There are currently 22 Cabinet Ministers and six other Ministers who attend Cabinet meetings; all bar one of them are paid. Adding to the 28 main ministers there are 96 junior ministers.

Some say the government has so many ministers due to the unique coalition situation. This is because they need to share out the spoils of government between two parties and such a large number is therefore required to work on complex and important issues.

The problem with this is that history has shown that you don’t need masses of ministers to overcome complex and important issues and that you can share out government responsibilities between two parties in a balanced way by choosing the best from both.

The last Tory-led coalition managed to balance a cabinet between all the parties. It also managed to run the British Empire, control an almost 100 percent nationalised work force, defeat the Japanese Imperial Empire, Mussolini's Italy and Nazi Germany – and all with only nine cabinet Ministers. Just compare that with the 28 ministers who attended Cabinet today.

It’s no surprise that with 124 ministers, many of the good and more radical ideas promised by both the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats before the general election have been watered down or lost under the paper work and bureaucracy of Whitehall where an army of over half a million civil servants escorts 124 ministers.

With such a large executive, who knows who is making what decisions? Even when they do know who is making a decision, there are far too many people who need consulting before subsequent decisions can be taken. The unprecedented number of U-turns from this first-term government is evidence of this effect.

Instead of moving around ministers like some kind of cup and ball trick, the Prime Minister ought to slim down the old, bloated beast so that it can become an effective, streamlined decision making executive once again. It can be done simply by getting rid of and merging ministers’ briefs and doing the same with some of the departments of state.

Looking at the different departments, it seems obvious that one could easily get rid of some of the junior ministerial roles and pass their responsibilities to the Secretary of State, doubling up the briefs of the civil servants.

For example you could abolish the ministers for state schools, children and families, and apprenticeships by giving many of the responsibilities to the Secretary of State and having only one junior minister for children and schools.

There is also no real need to have a Welsh Office, a Scottish Office or a Northern Ireland Office when there is devolution and their views can be bought up in committees. While we’re at it, there should be no need for an Equalities Office as many of the briefs can be handed to the specific secretaries of state. 

Cameron could merge different departments to have one secretary of state with a couple of junior ministers with wider briefs. The departments of 'Business, Innovation and Skills', 'Culture, Media and Sport', and 'Work and Pensions' could become one department for 'Industries and Welfare'. The departments of 'Environment, Food and Rural Affairs' and 'Energy and Climate Change' could become the 'Department for Environment, Rural Affairs and Energy'.

International Development should become part of Foreign and Commonwealth Office as the brief of one junior minister. The leaders of the Houses and many of the roles in Cabinet Office could be put into two junior minister’s briefs under the Prime Minister's remit of being Minister for the Civil Service. If there was not a coalition, there’d be no real need for an Office of Deputy Prime Minister.

This slimming down would make Government more effective and would save the tax payer a hell of a lot of money however it is unlikely to come about due to the political ramifications.

For starters, the “jobs for the boys” within the different parties would be at risk. MPs and Lords would also be unhappy with the prospect of losing either (or both) the extra pay or job title.

Loss and merger of departments would also see civil servants lose their jobs. While no doubt music to the ears of many readers, this would be an open goal for any union-backed Labour Party leader to attack the “increase of unemployment in the public sector” and the “harsh cuts being made”. Can you see David Cameron going for this?

Undoubtedly it would be a battle to slim down government. That said, the results of doing so would mean the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister could be the truly radical and reforming, effective leaders of our nation that they always wanted to be.

Nic Conner is a freelance writer who tweets at @NiConner

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