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No10, the Treasury and the Cabinet Office need fundamental change to meet the challenges facing the UK

No.10 Downing Street, the Cabinet Office and the Treasury are not institutions capable of meeting the challenges facing the UK in the 2020s and beyond

No.10 Downing Street

No.10 Downing Street, the Cabinet Office and the Treasury are not institutions capable of meeting the challenges facing the United Kingdom in the 2020s and beyond, concludes the final report of the Institute for Government’s Commission into the Centre of Government.

Published today, Power with purpose, sets out why the centre of government has failed successive prime ministers – and why it will continue to do so – and puts forward seven recommendations for radical reform. Whoever forms the next government will need to urgently implement these reforms in order to deliver their priorities - whether it is Rishi Sunak’s five pledges or Keir Starmer’s missions - and to tackle urgent 21st century challenges like climate change, the rise of AI, a stagnant economy, increasing global instability and underperforming public services.  

The commission’s conclusions draw on a year of interviews ranging from former prime ministers to leading scientists, senior civil servants in the UK and overseas and leaders in local government, the private sector and charities. It sets out why the centre of government is not equipped to meet the challenges of the rest of the 21st century.

The IfG commission says No10 and the Cabinet Office should not continue in their current form, and should instead be restructured into a new Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and a separate Department for the Civil Service, housed in a modernised Downing Street and 70 Whitehall complex. It also calls for the appointment of a new first secretary of state to drive the government’s priorities, the creation of an executive cabinet committee made of a small number of key ministers, for splitting up of the cabinet secretary’s role and responsibilities, and reiterates the IfG’s call for a new civil service statute. 

The IfG Commission on the Centre’s proposals are: 
1. The government should agree Priorities for Government at the start of a parliament and announce them as part of a modernised King’s Speech. 

2. The prime minister should appoint an Executive Cabinet Committee made up of a few key ministers. 

3. The prime minister should appoint a new, senior first secretary of state with responsibility for delivering the government’s priorities and ministerial responsibility for the civil service. 

4. The Cabinet Office and No.10 should be restructured into a Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and a separate Department for the Civil Service. 

5. There should be a new statute for the civil service and the Civil Service Board to hold its leadership accountable for reform priorities. 

6. The roles of cabinet secretary and head of the civil service should be filled by separate individuals.

7. The Priorities for Government should be fully reflected in a new shared strategy, budget and performance management process owned collectively at the centre.  

The Commission’s reforms would give whoever forms the next government a much better chance of success by creating strengthened, united political leadership at the heart of government, a new way to ensure Whitehall’s time and money is directed to long-term, cross-cutting priorities, and a more open and confident centre. 

  • The IfG Commission launched on March 1 2023. It is chaired by IfG director Hannah White with Anthony Seldon as the Commission’s deputy chair.  
  • 16 commissioners have supported the work of the commission

Endorsements for Power with purpose: Final report of the Commission on the Centre of Government 

“The UK’s centre of government is an anachronistic muddle. The IfG’s Centre Commission report sets out a very sensible set of principles to guide reform and offers some compelling ideas about how to make the centre of government more effective and more accountable.” 
Nick Boles, former minister, MP and adviser 

“I spent much of my time in government frustrated by the institutional siloes and culture that make it hard to join up delivery on the most difficult, long-term problems and priorities. The Commission's proposals would open up the centre of government, align it with the problems ministers want to fix and support the whole system to focus more on delivery from top to bottom.” 
Baroness Louise Casey, Chair of the Institute of Global Homelessness and independent adviser for social policy 

“The principles should be on every minister’s, and would be minister’s, desk. Thoughtful, practical and timely. Just the sort of thinking needed ahead of a general election.” 
Harriet Harman KC MP, former minister and deputy leader of the Labour Party 

"It is going to take more than a change of government to get the country back on track. It requires a radical rethink in how we do government and how we do politics. This report provides some very good thinking on how the workings of government can be improved." 
Alastair Campbell, author, broadcaster and former spokesperson for Tony Blair 

“This report contains very important learning and incisive recommendations gleaned from recent and historic efforts to reform the centre of government. It is vital that - post-election - the incoming administration sets a clear plan for reform of the centre - and this study provides the starting place. A clear vision, consistency and a truly collaborative approach will be at the heart of any such effort if it is to be successful.” 
Lord Ross Kempsell, director of the Conservative Research Department and spokesperson for Boris Johnson 

“If Keir Starmer becomes prime minister in a general election this year, Whitehall will be expected to change with the same speed and radicalism that has seen the Labour Party transformed under his leadership. This report sets out ways that would help him focus the machinery of government on delivering his five missions so that he can change Britain too.” 
Tom Baldwin, author ‘Keir Starmer: The Biography’ 

“Keir Starmer has set out the five missions around which a Labour government would be organised. But Number 10, the Cabinet Office and the Treasury are not built to tackle these kind of long-term, cross-cutting problems. We also have a hollowed out and demoralised civil service. To deliver results in a fiscally challenging climate, the centre of government in the UK urgently needs sensible, achievable reform and rejuvenation. This timely report sets out some important proposals which should be food for thought for both main parties.” 
Ayesha Hazarika, broadcaster, commentator and former political adviser 

“This timely report will hopefully serve as a guide for much needed reform of the centre of government. During the Coalition years I saw for myself that change is possible - from the ‘Quad’ taking collective budget decisions to a transparent programme of government agreed between two parties. But these changes happened in spite of, not because of, the over centralised and short termist British governing culture. A new Government has an opportunity to make its mark by introducing long lasting change.” 
Nick Clegg, former deputy prime minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats 

“Too many people in Britain feel their government is not delivering for them. This erodes the bonds of social trust and undermines faith in democracy. The Institute for Government’s proposals reimagine how the government can be responsive and responsible, placing accountability, efficiency and transparency at the heart of government. For Labour, whose single priority must be to deliver for working people, these proposals offer valuable ideas about how to govern differently, deliver missions, and restore trust in the institutions of British democracy.” 
Josh Simons, director of Labour Together 

“At last a comprehensive and well informed report that sets out the pernicious dysfunctions at the heart of the UK government. Any incoming government would be well advised to adopt the recommendations wholesale. The alternative is grim - a governance system incapable of tackling the massive problems the country confronts.” 
Philip Rycroft, former permanent secretary 

“Those of us, from all parties, who have tried to coordinate the activity of government are very well aware that establishing the right machinery at the centre of government is critical. This report provides some sensible suggestions about how that can be done in 2024.” 
Oliver Letwin, former minister for government policy and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster 

“This IfG report is an outstanding piece of thinking on the problem at the heart of government - how to create a joined-up strategy for the whole of govt and a decision making structure that delivers that strategy. The solutions proposed are radical, pragmatic and importantly create a coherent model to make real change. I welcome this and urge its rapid adoption.” 
Sir Ian Cheshire, chair of Channel 4, former lead government non-executive director, former chair of Barclays UK 

“In the second quarter of the 21st century, the UK must transform our economy, society and governance to meet the challenges of the green and technological revolutions, an ageing population, flat-lining productivity, the Brexit transition, and geopolitical tensions. The Westminster and Whitehall system was developed in the 19th and extended in the 20th century. It too must be transformed. This paper about the nucleus of that system is a timely contribution to the debate.” 
Lord Mark Sedwill, former cabinet secretary, national security adviser and permanent secretary at the Home Office 

“The report makes valuable recommendations to provide great focus and clarity at the centre of government, including tackling the “duplication and confusion” which exist between No 10 and the Cabinet Office. I welcome in particular the proposal for legislation to clarify the roles, responsibilities and accountabilities of the civil service, which has been under strain as an institution.” 
Sir Jonathan Jones KC, former head of the Government Legal Department and Treasury Solicitor 

“Governing is getting harder. For several decades, successive Prime Ministers have found it increasingly hard to drive real change. This report offers future leaders an essential guide to why this is the case, and a blueprint for how to genuinely get things done. It is fascinating reading for anyone who has worked at the centre, and vital reading for anyone who wants to.”  
Tom Fletcher, Principal of Hertford College Oxford, author, former ambassador and adviser Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron 

"This report is timely and welcome. Government needs to be more 'joined up', agile and prepared, if it is to cope with the complexities and threats that  confront today's world." 
Lord Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal and former President of the Royal Society 

“It has been clear for many years now that the centre of government needs to connect better with the rest of the country so that it can help release the reforming energies of Britain rather than get in their way. These exciting proposals from the Commission on the Centre of Government would help it do just that. They should be read by everyone who is serious about making the next ten years a decade of national renewal.” 
Marc Stears, director of the UCL Policy Lab 

"Getting the centre of government working well is crucial to good and effective government.  In opening up what is going wrong and putting out ideas for how to fix it, this report will I hope kick off a debate as to how future governments can move forward."  
Dan Corry, chief executive of New Philanthropy Capital 

“Reform of the centre of government is long overdue.  A proper Office of Prime Minister and Cabinet will bring us in line with countries with similar systems to ours, and a dedicated Head of the Civil Service will at last put someone in charge of driving improvements in capability, efficiency and effectiveness.  I warmly welcome this report, and particularly the recognition that the undivided Treasury is living on borrowed time." 
Lord Francis Maude, former minister for the Cabinet Office  

“There is much to support in these powerful and thoughtful recommendations, especially the creation of a dedicated head of the civil service and an office of Prime Minister and Cabinet. I would advise against putting the governance and structures of the civil service on a statutory basis, which is both unnecessary and would create rigidity. The same benefits can be achieved by delegating some of the prime minister’s existing statutory powers to the civil service head.” 
Baroness Simone Finn, former deputy chief of staff No.10 

"As someone who has worked in the Treasury, Number 10 and the Cabinet Office, I recognise all the issues this report raises. It is a very thorough and welcome analysis of the problems of the current structures, with some thought-provoking recommendations that I hope will be considered seriously." 
Sir Alex Allan, former principal private secretary to the prime minister and chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee 

“A dysfunctional centre of government will prevent any administration achieving its objectives, future Prime Ministers will have a much better chance of success if they follow these recommendations.” 
Sam Freedman, commentator and policy adviser 

“This is an important and timely IfG report. Getting the centre of government right is material to government success. Reducing the size of the centre is key, as is advancing porosity and improving grip on data and performance.  If government is to think, plan and deliver for the long-term, more integrated budgeting and longer-term focus is key.  Whether you agree with all the IFG recommendations or not, this significant report has plenty of good ideas – and builds on their superb work on government capability and reform." 
Professor Alexander Evans, London School of Economics and former senior civil servant

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