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Adam Smith Institute - Slim Down the Cabinet Office to Ensure Value for Taxpayers

Reduce the Cabinet Office headcount and simplify its structure to ensure greater efficiency says think tank

  • The structure and working of the Cabinet Office is complex, confused and unwieldy.

  • Large recent increases in Cabinet Office spending are unexplained. 

  • Several key responsibilities of the Cabinet Office are better suited to other departments. Its role should be limited to managing the civil service and coordinating policy formulation and delivery. 

  • Many of the Cabinet Office’s departments, agencies and public bodies should be privatised, closed, integrated into the core Cabinet Office or investigated by the National Audit Office. 

  • Significant reform is needed to ensure value for taxpayers and efficient governance. 

A new report, Count Down: Reforming the Cabinet Office, from the Adam Smith Institute (ASI) argues that the Cabinet Office is too large and cumbersome to efficiently concentrate on its core priorities.

Tim Ambler, the report author, makes the case for slimming down the department in order to focus on the two core streams of work of the Cabinet Office; managing the civil service and coordinating policy formulation and delivery.

One possible outcome of these reforms would reduce the Cabinet Office headcount to 1,286 (i.e. by about 90%). In order to be sure such a dramatic cut is feasible, the report recommends conducting a ‘reverse Parkinson’ exercise. Parkinson’s Law means that work, however unnecessary, expands to fill the time available. The reverse exercise would look at, given reductions, what would not be done up until all the essential work, and only that, is covered. This would be implemented before any redundancies take place.

The report further recommends the following: 

  1. Urgently clarify the headcount employed by the Cabinet Office. 

  2. Reduce the Cabinet Office to six ministers and two permanent secretaries from the present 13 ministers and 5 permanent secretaries.

  3. Present a smaller and simpler annual presentation for Parliament and the public which explain major changes, such as the jump in net costs of goods and services. 

  4. Rationalise the Cabinet Office’s departments, agencies and public bodies. 

Tim Ambler, report author and Senior Fellow at the Adam Smith Institute, said:

“Over time, senior politicians have lost control of civil service numbers, the management structures they need and what governing is really about. They need a wake-up call.”

Daniel Pryor, Head of Research at the Adam Smith Institute, said:

“The Cabinet Office blob has ballooned in recent years, delivering poor value for taxpayer money. Many of its associated public bodies and groups are in dire need of closure, privatisation or transfer to other departments. This paper provides a range of suggestions for how to achieve a radical reduction in headcount. Fundamentally, the Cabinet Office must get back to basics—managing the civil service and coordinating policy delivery.”

About the ‘Reforming the Civil Service’ series:

The UK government plans to reduce the civil service headcount by nearly 20%. We believe that deeper savings—bringing lower costs and greater efficiency—are easily possible. Whitehall has grown far more than 20% in the last seven years alone; and we have found most departments to be a confused clutter of overlapping functions and agencies. This series aims to cut through that clutter to suggest nimbler, lighter structures.

Whitehall departments have two functions: to manage policy and to provide services. We believe that services (such as passport provision) should be provided by executive agencies, without being swamped by the core department staff. We also believe that the cores could work, more effectively, with a fraction of their staff.

Deep staff reductions can be managed through natural turnover, early retirement, pausing non-essential recruitment and other methods. The result would be a slimmer, more focused civil service, better services for users and substantial savings for taxpayers.

Notes to editors:

For further comments or to arrange an interview, contact Daniel Pryor, daniel@adamsmith.org | 0758 477 8207

Tim Ambler MA (Oxon), MSc (MIT) is a Senior Fellow at the Adam Smith Institute, previously Senior Fellow, London Business School.

The Adam Smith Institute is a free market, neoliberal think tank based in London. It advocates classically liberal public policies to create a richer, freer world. 

Original article link: https://www.adamsmith.org/news

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