No matter which party or parties take power after the next election, all will rely in part upon policy development work that will take place over the next year.

This project addresses the following questions:

  • What challenges will the Civil Service face during the latter stages of the coalition in supporting policy development within the two coalition parties?
  • What role does the Civil Service play in engaging with the Opposition as it develops its own plans for government?
  • How should the relationship between Whitehall and the parties function in this period?
  • And what new mechanisms or approaches could help ensure that the government formed after the next election has a robust, well-considered and implementable policy programme?

Project plan

To influence and inform preparations for the final year of coalition, the Institute for Government has conducted a study of these issues. Specifically, we examined:

  • Role of the Civil Service: What is the role of the Civil Service in supporting policy making in government in the run up to an election? What are the challenges for parties, in government and opposition in developing manifesto policies and what does that mean for their likely success in government?
  • Coalition context: What challenges will the Civil Service face in working with the two governing parties as they shift their focus to the election and to the development of competing policy positions (even while continuing to govern together on a day-to-day basis)?
  • Pre-election contacts: Civil Service contact with the Opposition is a recognised part of the pre-election period, but is formally focused on discussing potential machinery of government changes. What lessons can be learnt from 2010 about how to improve this process? And how will the context of coalition affect these contacts?
  • More open advice: Other countries have more open mechanisms than the UK for ensuring stronger manifesto policies across all parties. Drawing on international examples, our work will consider the benefits of different mechanisms and assess how they might be applied to Whitehall.

The project ran from September 2013 to May 2014, and culminated in the publication of two parallel reports which set out our recommendations for how the UK should manage the challenges described above: Year Five: Whitehall and the Parties in the Final Year of Coalition and Pre-election Contact between the Civil Service and the Parties: Lessons from 2010.

Project updates

In March 2014, the Institute published two case studies on pre-election policy costing facilities in Australia and Ireland. The studies were accompanied by a blog from Robyn Munro, summarising the key lessons that these systems hold for the UK and the potential expansion of the Office for Budget Responsibility to cost party policies in advance of a general election.

In April 2014, we published a further case study on the system of 'separate space' that was set up during the final six months of the last Scottish coalition to enable all major parties to access civil service policy support. This was accompanied by a blog from Akash Paun summarising how 'separate space' worked, the benefits it offered and the lessons that the system holds for Whitehall in the final year of the Coalition. 

On 7th May 2014 we published two parallel reports, Year Five: Whitehall and the Parties in the Final Year of Coalition, and Pre-election Contact between the Civil Service and the Parties: Lessons from 2010. These reports set out our recommendations for how the civil service should work with both coalition parties and the Opposition in the final year of this government. The launch of these reports was accompanied by a blog from Akash Paun summarising the challenges of the final year, and a blog from Catherine Haddon on pre-election contact with the Opposition.

We held a launch event to mark the publication of these reports, where the report authors discussed their findings with Sir John Elvidge and Sir Alex Allan. 

These reports complete our programme of work on the final year of coalition government. We will continue to make the case for our proposals and will be closely monitoring how the final year proceeds.

Previous work

This project builds upon two strands of Institute for Government research. First is the IfG’s work on government transitions, which produced two reports: Transitions: Preparing for changes of government (2009) and the post-election follow-up Transitions: Lessons Learned (2011). A related project in 2012 analysed how policy is developed in opposition and taken into government.

Second is the Institute for Government’s work on the challenges of making coalition government work, whose outputs include United We Stand? Coalition Government in the UK (2010) and A Game of Two Halves (2012), which considered how coalitions renew in mid-term. More recently, in September 2013, we published a briefing paper entitled Endgames: lessons for the Lib Dems in the final phase of coalition.

We hosted an international panel event in November 2013 on the final phase of coalitions.

Project Team

The research team for this project consisted of Akash Paun, Catherine Haddon and Robyn Munro, with intern support from Siddharth Varma, and oversight from Institute for Government Director Peter Riddell.

Queries about our work in this area should be directed to akash.paun@instituteforgovernment.org.uk or catherine.haddon@instituteforgovernment.org.uk

Project contacts

Senior Fellow
Senior Fellow
Robyn Munro
Senior Researcher