Work to build PM’s Delivery Unit ‘will start right away’

Johnson drafts in former British Virgin Islands governor Gus Jaspert as interim head
Gus Jaspert shows then foreign secretary Boris Johnson the devastation wrought on the British Virgin Islands by 2017's Hurricane Irma Credit: Twitter

By Jim Dunton

23 Apr 2021

Downing Street has said work to create the new Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit will commence right away with former British Virgin Islands governor Gus Jaspert acting as interim head until permanent chief Dr Emily Lawson is available.

Prime minister Boris Johnson’s official spokesman this week announced that the unit was being created to provide “the strongest possible approach” to support the successful delivery of the government’s agenda, based on the recommendations of a review by Sir Michael Barber.

Lawson, who is NHS chief commercial officer and the health service’s vaccine deployment lead, will head up the unit from later this year. However, work to build the “small team” is starting immediately under Jaspert – whose term as BVI governor ended in January.

Jaspert showed Johnson around the islands after they were hammered by Hurricane Irma in September 2017, just weeks after he took up his posting in the Caribbean and when Johnson was foreign secretary.

Prior to that Jaspert worked in the Cabinet Office, leading on national security and intelligence. He was private secretary on home affairs issues in the Prime Minister’s Office during David Cameron’s time in Downing Street.

The new delivery unit will include a mix of existing civil servants and new recruits with “key skills”, such as auditors and data scientists,” Downing Street said.

“Work to set up the unit will begin immediately, although the team will be built over time through secondments and recruitment.

“This will be a new, small team with a great deal of authority focused on delivering for the government’s priorities.  It will be small but powerful. The bulk of the unit will be established in the coming weeks.”

No.10 said the unit – likened by some as a throwback to the Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit introduced under Tony Blair and headed up by Barber – was in line with Barber’s “recommendations on what works best”.  

“The unit will work closely with No.10 teams, the Cabinet Office and the Treasury and it will draw upon the strong skills we already have across the civil service, including in the Cabinet Office and the PM’s implementation unit.” 

The current implementation unit was created by David Cameron and George Osborne during the coalition government after the delivery unit was scrapped.

Commission for Smart Government research director Martin Wheatley said strengthening delivery capacity was a sensible move on Downing Street’s part. But he cautioned that it would not be a cure-all move.

“The PM is right to learn from history, that he needs strong capacity linked closely to him to keep track of and drive delivery,” he said.

“However excellent delivery also requires clear strategy, and we think the PM needs to do more to build strategic clarity about how high level goals like net zero and levelling up can be turned into a clear set of shifts in policies and programmes which a delivery unit can oversee.”

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