Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by the Cabinet Office (NC 1)



  1.  This Memorandum provides background information on the role and priorities of the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, the Rt Hon Lord Macdonald of Tradeston CBE.

  2.  It also briefly discusses the ways in which the role of the Cabinet Office has developed since the election, and how the arrival of the Deputy Prime Minister, Lord Macdonald and the new units that report to them have strengthened its capacity to provide strategic direction at the centre of Government.

  3.  A description of the post-election roles and responsibilities of each of the Cabinet Office Ministers and of Sir Richard Wilson (answer of 11 July 2001 to Parliamentary Question from Andrew Lansley MP) is attached at Annex A for information. A brief description of the aims of the two key new units within the Cabinet Office (the Delivery Unit and the Office of Public Service Reform) is also provided at Annex B.

  4.  The primary role of the Cabinet Office is to support collective government and the delivery of the Government's key priorities. As the Prime Minister has made clear since the election, the key priority for this term is to reform and modernise the country's vital public services and redesign them around the customer. The Government's strategy is built on the Prime Minister's four key principles.

    —  a national framework of standards and accountability.

    —  within that framework, devolution of power to frontline professionals, enabling local leaders to innovate and develop new services.

    —  better and more flexible rewards and conditions of service for front line staff.

    —  more choice for the consumers of public services and the ability, if provision falls below acceptable standards, to have an alternative provider.

  5.  In order to support this, the Cabinet Office has been strengthened by the creation of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister which works closely with the Prime Minister's own office in playing a central role in ensuring that the Government's strategic objectives are met. The Committee had made a number of recommendations along these lines in the report "Making Government Work" which advocated the strengthening of the Cabinet Office and its ability to play that role.

The Role of the Deputy Prime Minister and the operation of his Office

  6.  The Deputy Prime Minister deputises for the Prime Minister at home and abroad as required. He has an over-arching responsibility for supporting the Prime Minister in the delivery of key Government priorities and programmes, and he takes on specific tasks at the request of the Prime Minister. In addition he has a number of personal priorities and cross-departmental responsibilities which are set out below. He is supported by the office of the Deputy Prime Minister which has been formed largely by bringing together a number of existing Units within the Cabinet Office and by the transfer of responsibility for the Regional Co-ordination Unit and the Government Offices for the Regions. These changes help meet the Committee's call in "Making Government Work" for improved co-ordination of policy.

  7.  The Deputy Prime Minister supports the Prime Minister in the delivery of Government priorities through, amongst other things, his chairmanship of a number of key Cabinet Committees. These include new Committees on Domestic Affairs and on Nations and the Regions, new sub-Committees on Social Exclusion and Regeneration and on Energy Policy and the existing Committee on the Environment.

  8.  In addition his responsibilities include:

    —  Social Exclusion—the Prime Minister has asked the Deputy Prime Minister to take the lead on tackling social exclusion. The Social Exclusion Unit reports to him.

    —  Regional Co-ordination—the Deputy Prime Minister is responsible for overseeing the delivery of Government programmes regionally and locally. The Regional Co-ordination Unit and the Government Offices report to him.

    —  Regional Governance—The Prime Minister has asked the Deputy Prime Minister to produce a White Paper on Regional Governance, in close liaison with the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions.

    —  International Matters and Climate Change—the Deputy Prime Minister deputises for the Prime Minister on international matters, helping to build and maintain close relations with foreign counterparts. He also continues to play a role on international climate change discussions and negotiations on behalf of the Prime Minister.

    —  Devolution and the British Irish Council—The Deputy Prime Minister oversees the ongoing implementation of the devolution settlements. He also carries Ministerial responsibility for the British Irish Council and attends meetings as necessary.

  9.  The cross-cutting nature of the responsibilities of the Deputy Prime Minister mean that his Office works closely, on a day to day basis, with many other parts of the Cabinet Office, with No.10 and with other Central Government Departments. In cases where a lead department exists (for example, DEFRA in the case of Climate Change, DTLR in the case of regional policy) that Department retains policy responsibility and deals with day to day progress and implementation, while the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister works closely with them on strategic and cross-departmental issues.

The Role of Lord Macdonald

  10.  Lord Macdonald, as Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, has day-to-day responsibility for the work of the Prime Minister's Delivery Unit, for which he reports to the Prime Minister. Where the role of the Deputy Prime Minister in helping to deliver key Government objectives is broad and strategic, Lord Macdonald focuses on specific aspects of delivery, including the four key priorities of education, health, crime and transport.

  11.  Where cross-cutting issues arise which are of interest to both the Deputy Prime Minister and Lord Macdonald they work closely to ensure a co-ordinated outcome. The responsibilities of the Deputy Prime Minister, for example for the Regional Co-ordination Unit, also mean that he can assist in ensuring that the recommendations of the Units under Lord Macdonald's direction are implemented on the ground.

  12.  Lord Macdonald is responsible for the work of the Regulatory Impact Unit (RIU), which amongst other things supports the Better Regulation Task force. Lord Macdonald is also responsible for the work of the Office of the E-Envoy (OeE) on electronic government including the drive to get all Government services online by 2005. The work of these Units complements Lord Macdonald's responsibilities for delivery in several areas. For example, the RIU Public Sector Team works to reduce red tape affecting frontline public servants.

The Role of the Cabinet Office at the Centre of Government and Implications for the Modernising Government Agenda

  13.  The appointment of the Deputy Prime Minister—the "powerful Cabinet Minister" at the head of the Cabinet Office for which the Committee called—and the broad range of his responsibilities has resulted in a number of changes in Cabinet Office which address the Committee's concerns. These changes have, as intended, resulted in a strengthening and deepening of the relationship between Cabinet Office and No.10. They have built on the capacity of the Cabinet Office to provide a strategic lead at the centre of Government and have given greater strength to Cabinet government and the committee system. The breadth of the Deputy Prime Minister's responsibilities leaves him well placed to play a key role in delivering the Government's objectives and improving the delivery of public services.

  14.  These, and other structural changes within the Cabinet Office, have also taken the Department forward into the second phase of the Modernising Government programme. In the first phase the Government made significant progress on a number of fronts including the introduction of Public Service Agreements, the introduction of the Civil Service Reform Agenda and the introduction of e-services. The second stage of modernisation will be spearheaded by the two key new Units within the Cabinet Office (see Annex B). The Office of Public Sector Reform, in particular, will provide a new perspective and additional expertise in taking forward the Civil Service reform programme and demonstrates the Government's determination to ensure that the reform of public services is kept at the top of the agenda.

Cabinet Office

October 2001

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