Friday, 30 Oct 2020

Boris Johnson plots new Whitehall shakeup following shock Cabinet Minister departure

The COVID-19 crisis has only added further frustration to the department. The Cabinet Office operates at the heart of Whitehall and oversees everything from policy implementation to constitutional reform. Sir Mark Sedwill’s departure as permanent secretary has reignited talk that Downing Street is about to bring the Cabinet Office under its control.

Some even suggest that a possible merger with Number 10 could be on the cards.

In a recent briefing with government aides, Dominic Cummings reportedly detailed the shortcomings of the “incoherent” Cabinet Office.

There were also reports that he dismissed as “media inventions” that he wanted to centralise power in Number 10.

Downing Street has instead commented saying their aim to create a “smaller, more focused and more elite centre”.

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Last night, a Number 10 staffer mentioned to The Telegraph that bringing the Cabinet Office and Number 10 closer together has been an ambition for months.

At the start of this year there was even some talk of knocking through the door that joins the two period buildings, although the idea came to nothing.

Alex Thomas, programme director at the Institute for Government think tank and former civil servant, said there is “frustration of those at the centre in Number 10 over how well their support structure is set up”.

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He added: “levers they have got through the Cabinet Office to drive delivery and actually make things happen in the real world.”

According to Mr Thomas, “the Cabinet Office currently includes a series of particular units, like on delivering projects and experts on the constitution.”
“What doesn’t exist is a powerful delivery unit that sits in the centre and holds departments to account to get things done.”

Michael Gove is being seen as a key player in how Downing Street is looking to improve the speed and efficiency of its projects.

It’s reported that apparently there are plans to improve policy implementation.

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Mr Gove will now sit on a new Domestic and Economic Strategy committee, alongside Rishi Sunak and chaired by the Prime Minister.

A source in the Cabinet Office highlighted that the department works closely with Downing Street.

As well as the Treasury, with Lord Agnew a minister in both departments.
Michael Gove, the chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, has already strengthened his grip over the department, taking on more and more responsibility.

Mr Gove’s allies have also been appointed as non-executive directors of the Cabinet Office.

A Downing Street source yesterday said any suggestions that the Cabinet Office could merge with Number 10 are “not true”.

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