Lord Falconer: Labour would boost Downing Street's departmental oversight

Prime minister needs team who can speak 'frankly' on departments, Labour peer Lord Falconer says, but warns against 'divisive' approach to Whitehall

By Matt Foster

11 Mar 2015

A Labour government would seek to boost the centre of government to ensure better oversight of government departments, Lord Falconer has said.

In an interview with the Guardian, the former lord chancellor - appointed by Ed Miliband to sharpen up the party's preparation for office - said Labour would aim to end a culture in which departments "operate in isolation" by strengthening the Number 10 operation.

"Of course we want good relations between the departments and the centre, but in relation to the priorities of the government, history tells us they need to be driven," the peer said.

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"That is especially true in relation to issues that are substantially cross-cutting like devolution to the cities, ensuring a massive increase in apprenticeships and dealing with a low-wage economy."

The peer called for a stronger Number 10 so that the prime minister was able to draw on the support of advisers "who can tell him frankly what is happening in departments". 

Such a move could, he argued, avoid a repeat of the difficulties around the controversial health and social care bill.

Lord Falconer also used the interview to signal that a Labour government would launch a review of major government IT projects if elected, warning that such schemes could "get a momentum of their own".

But he said the party did not want to "get into a divisive relationship with the civil service".

"My experience as a minister is that the civil service are always incredibly keen to deliver what ministers wants, and it is for ministers and government to be clear - and if they are clear, they will get delivery."

The interview follows this week's report by the Public Administration Select Committee, which also called for the the centre of government to be "given the means and the influence to act as an effective headquarters of government”,  in order to ensure departments were not working at cross-purposes.


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