Working to make government more effective

Hybrid event

Why doesn't the centre of government work?

The event explored how the government machine works and why it can hinder delivery of a prime minister's priorities.

Panellists (from left to right) Baroness Simone Finn, Peter Hill, Dr Hannah White, Anthony Seldon and Lord Robin Butler discuss the current problems with the centre of government.
Panellists (from left to right) Baroness Simone Finn, Peter Hill, Dr Hannah White, Anthony Seldon and Lord Robin Butler discuss the current problems with the centre of government.

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The centre of government does not function as well as it needs to. Successive prime ministers have complained of ‘rubber levers’ and reflected that the nature of the government machine can make it difficult to deliver their priorities. The last three premierships have not been helped, and sometimes have been hindered, by the failings of No.10, the Cabinet Office and Treasury. The civil service is not working as well as it should and Brexit and Covid in particular exposed deep problems with the whole of the government machine.

But what exactly are these problems? Why have they not been solved? And what could be done to radically improve how the centre works?  

To launch a major new programme of work, we brought together an expert panel to discuss the current state of the centre and suggest how it could be reformed and improved.  

Our panellists were:

  • Lord Robin Butler, Cabinet Secretary 1988-98
  • Baroness Simone Finn, Downing Street deputy chief of staff 2021–22 
  • Peter Hill, former principal private secretary to the prime minister (2017-19) and CEO of COP 26

The event was chaired by Dr Hannah White, Director of the Institute for Government and Sir Anthony Seldon, author, political commentator and historian. 

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