Johnson to set up new prime minister's department in response to Gray report

New department will be led by a perm sec and will tackle “fragmented” leadership structures, PM pledges
Screenshot: Parliament.tv

By Tevye Markson

31 Jan 2022

Boris Johnson has pledged to “fix” No. 10 by creating a new prime minister’s department with a permanent secretary, in response to the release of Sue Gray's initial Partygate findings.

The prime minister has promised changes to the way Downing Street and the Cabinet Office are run, “so that we can get on with the job that I was elected to do".

In a statement to the House of Commons today, Johnson said he would create an office of the prime minister – which he later referred to as the "prime minister’s department" .

He also said there will also be a review of the civil service code, as well as the code for special advisers, which he said would include ensuring the codes of conduct are properly enforced.

Johnson did not mention any review of the ministerial code.

Johnson also promised more announcements in the coming days to improve the working of government and the connection between No.10 and parliament.

"It isn't enough to say sorry. I get it and I will fix it," he said.

Asked to set out which "specific structures" would be put in place to make No.10 more accountable to parliament, Johnson repeated his earlier pledge that he would improve communication between the two, as well as creating a new department led by a perm sec "who is accountable to me".

Failures of leadership and judgement, blurred lines of accountability, and a No.10 operation that has expanded without sufficient structures to keep it in check all contributed to a “serious failure” to observe the highest standards during the coronavirus pandemic, Gray said in her report.

The launch of a Met Police investigation into some of the events meant it was not possible to provide a "meaningful report", Gray said, instead handing over an update on her investigation.

Johnson's comments came amid a fractious session in the House of Commons, in which several MPs repeatedly pressed the PM on earlier comments he had made denying that one of the events now being investigated by the Met had taken place.

He was also warned by senior backbencher Sir Bernard Jenkin to remember that "the country wants results" when restructuring No.10.

"We can’t see the point of such a large No.10 superstructure. It needs to be slimmed down and streamlined," Jenkin, who was head of the Public Adminsitration and Constitutional Affairs Committee for 10 years and now leads the Liaison Committee, said.

"Can I commend [Johnson's] determination to restore cabinet government and it is on results over the next few months on which he will be judged," he added.

Jenkin also warned the PM that "the backbenches of the Conservative Party need no reminders about how to dispose of a failing leader".

Johnson responded: "I'm more than content to be judged on the results, what we've already delivered and the results that we will deliver."

Leadership structures 'fragmented and complicated'

Gray said the number of staff working in No.10 has increased to the extent that it is now like a "small government department" rather than purely a dedicated Prime Minister’s Office, in her report.

“Yet the structure that support the smooth operation of Downing Street have not evolved sufficiently to meet the demands of this expansion,” she added.

“The leadership structures are fragmented and complicated and this has sometimes led to the blurring of lines of accountability.

“Too much responsibility and expectation is placed on the senior official whose principal function is the direct support of the prime minister. This should be addressed as a matter of priority.”

In response, the PM told the House of Commons he will create a new No.10 department to tackle “fragmented” leadership structures and blurred lines of accountability.

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