A Conservative party grandee has been given the job of reviewing the effectiveness of the Cabinet Office as part of Boris Johnson government’s efforts to shake up the UK civil service.
Francis Maude, a former Tory minister and member of the House of Lords, has been asked by Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove to examine the department’s performance and its relations with other Whitehall ministries.
The Cabinet Office is the key co-ordination department in Whitehall, responsible for supporting the prime minister and rolling out government policy.
It also has overall responsibility for the civil service under Mark Sedwill, the cabinet secretary who is due to step down next month.
Officials in 10 Downing Street, including Dominic Cummings, Mr Johnson’s chief adviser, have privately accused the Cabinet Office of being sluggish and ineffective in its role in responding to the coronavirus crisis.
“The Cabinet Office simply collapsed when faced with the enormity of coronavirus,” said one Whitehall official.
Senior civil servants said they expected the Cabinet Office’s functions would be more closely integrated with Downing Street as part of Lord Maude’s review.
Mr Cummings is due to move himself, Mr Johnson’s private office, policy unit and special advisers to a new command centre based in 70 Whitehall, where the Cabinet Office is located.
Officials said the move of Downing Street staff to the Cabinet Office is part of a likely plan to create a new “department for the prime minister” to deliver Brexit and Mr Johnson’s broader policy agenda, as well as unleash culture change in the civil service.
Although Mr Cummings wishes to have greater sway over the Cabinet Office and other Whitehall departments, Mr Johnson will continue to be based in 10 Downing Street.
Lord Maude’s review will focus on the “efficiency” and “effectiveness” of the Cabinet Office, according to officials briefed on the work.
It will also examine the Cabinet Office’s work in project delivery and its spending controls, as well as the department’s commercial functions, property management and human resources.
A spokesperson for the Cabinet Office said: “Lord Maude is conducting a short review on how to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of government functions and spending.”
The peer will not be paid for his role, and will work alongside Alex Chisholm, permanent secretary of the Cabinet Office, and Theodore Agnew, the department’s junior minister.
Mr Gove has backed the case for a civil service shake-up, saying it needs to diversify its recruits and move more officials out of Whitehall.
“If this government is to reform so much, it must also reform itself,” he said in June.
Mr Johnson made the case for reform of the government machine in June after accusing parts of the British state of falling short during the pandemic.
In a speech focused on his domestic agenda, Mr Johnson said the machine needed to respond faster in future.
“Parts of government . . . seemed to respond so sluggishly, so that sometimes it seemed like that recurring bad dream when you are telling your feet to run and your feet won’t move,” he added.
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