Last week the four central permanent secretaries – Cabinet Secretary Jeremy Heywood, head of the Home Civil Service Bob Kerslake, Treasury Permanent Secretary Nick Macpherson and Cabinet Office Permanent Secretary Richard Heaton were all before the PAC answering questions about the role of the centre. Sir Jeremy’s testimony was particularly enlightening. He said that he agreed with the PAC: “We want to see a strong centre too.” The role of the Cabinet Office was, he said, to enforce Cabinet decisions: “We have a set of tools at our disposal but sometimes they do not work as fast as we would want.” Even though the two parties in coalition “were interested in moving to more reliance on Cabinet Committees and more collective consideration of some issues… [that hadn’t] made much difference to the question of how cross-departmental issues themselves are taken forward”. He noted that cross-departmental working still “depends a lot on ministers working cooperatively together … and on permanent secretaries coming together in groups…that is more of a culture problem because people are still more inclined to defend a departmental line”. One of the most important roles of the centre is to counter exactly those gravitational pulls that get in […]

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