The phone rings. It’s the prime minister. You’re being asked to lead a unit to take on the burning issue which Whitehall business-as-usual can’t or won’t solve. What should you do? Our advice is to pause, breathe deeply, and read the Institute for Government’s guide to leading a central government unit. The Special Ones: How to make central government units work distils the wisdom we heard in the course of interviewing many former heads and members of so-called special units – and the officials and politicians who set them up, and closed them down – for the Institute’s major report on the centre of government. We identified seven tips any potential unit head should take on board. Tip 1: Have effective support from Number 10 Clear prime ministerial patronage helps to open doors and signals the political priority of an issue – and Whitehall is quick to spot when the shine wears off. The Social Exclusion Unit (SEU) – which enjoyed real success under Tony Blair’s patronage in the early 2000s – lost its previous clout when it moved to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister under John Prescott. Also, the Treasury is at least as important when money […]

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