Jack Brown

Will an Office for the Prime Minister work?

Boris Johnson now leads an interim administration. Within a fortnight, we will have a new occupant of No. 10. What will Rishi Sunak or Liz Truss find waiting for them in Downing Street? And what might the machinery of government mean for their ability to deliver on their campaign promises?

The first thing that will strike the new Prime Minister is Johnson’s internal reforms. The creation of an ‘Office of the Prime Minister’ is potentially the most significant, although it was announced late in Johnson’s premiership and it remains to be seen how seriously it has been taken. On arrival, the new Prime Minister may therefore be equally entitled to feel that No. 10 has been either slimmed-down or beefed-up. On one hand, there are reports that the new Downing Street Permanent Secretary the Samantha Jones will encourage much of the building’s staff to move into the Cabinet Office in an attempt to rationalise the building’s ever-expanding operation. But on the other hand, Jones’s appointment is connected to the creation of a Department for the Prime Minister’s Office, an expansionary move.

Herbert Asquith’s old claim that ‘the office of prime minister is what the holder chooses and is able to make of it’ remains just as true a century on

Sue Gray’s report found that No. 10 had grown such that ‘it is now more akin to a small government department’ and that structures ‘have not evolved sufficiently to meet the demands of this expansion’. The job title of Downing Street permanent secretary is not entirely new in itself, but could be significant if it is meant to address the resulting ‘blurred lines of accountability’ referred to in the report. A permanent secretary for No. 10, like those found in other departments, could differ from the cabinet secretary in focusing on the activities of No.

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