How the most powerful mandarins spend their time
BBC4’s The Secret World of Whitehall last night gave a fascinating glimpse into the secretive world of the incumbent Cabinet Secretary Gus O’Donnell and the interactions between the Cabinet Office and No 10.
We have analysed the external contacts in the last quarter of 2010 for Sir Gus and No 10’s Permanent Secretary Jeremy Heywood (PDF, 148KB). They show a fascinating difference in what they do.
How Sir Gus spends his time
We divided the external meetings reported by Sir Gus and Jeremy into four categories:
- specific policy
- general discussion
- purely social.
What emerges is that people don’t come to talk to the Cabinet Secretary about policy specifics – but that much of the role is taken up with representational activities both inside and outside the civil service.
But if you want to talk policy specifics
…you come to see Jeremy Heywood. Jeremy spends no time at all on representational roles, does no external speaking and does barely any official socialising. But he is in frequent discussion on both general policy issues and on policy specifics.
And what they come to talk to him about
The list also provides a fascinating insight into what issues are on No.10’s mind. It is not easy to get behind the black door. But those getting to see Jeremy came to discuss growth (skills, venture capital and the high tech hub), energy, financial markets, the Big Society and education.
Playing to their strengths?
Both Jeremy and Gus are economists – and one of the most powerful ideas in economics is the benefit of specialisation around comparative advantage.
What is emerging is a clear differentiation of the roles of Cabinet Secretary with its strong leadership role in and for the civil service and the relatively new role Permanent Secretary at No.10 with its dominant focus on policy specifics.
- Watch The Secret World of Whitehall
- Michael Crick's Newsnight Blog: Contrasting roles of Whitehall's most powerful mandarins
- Telegraph: The power behind the throne: Why cabinet secretaries worry prime ministers
- BBC News: Cabinet secretary 'pulls government's invisible strings'