A just-published refresh of the Ministerial Code, the ethical-behaviour handbook for senior politicians, has removed controversial sections that allowed secretaries of state to create offices with hand-picked staff, bypassing normal recruitment rules.
The ability to put together Extended Ministerial Offices was fought for by former Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude during the Coalition Government, but met opposition from then-Civil Service Commissioner Sir David Normington.
The government said the creation of EMOs would increase the amount of support available to ministers; opponents feared that allowing ministers to make more direct appointments of policy and support staff could compromise the neutrality of the civil service.
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Normington’s proposed solutions, floated in 2013, included a commissioner-level veto on the hiring of party activists, a requirement for EMO appointees to work under non-renewable five-year fixed-term contracts, and for them to be line-managed by another civil servant, rather than the minister.
Nevertheless, lines permitting the introduction of EMOs were included in an October 2015 update of the Ministerial Code. They are not present in this week’s update.
Institute for Government research manager Nicola Hughes said formalised EMOs had been a "short-lived experiment" in government.
"There has been little real evaluation of their pros and cons," she said.
"What is clear from our work speaking to ministers is that they often feel under-supported in their roles and want to be able to bring in external specialist experts to help them on specific policy goals."
In her foreword to the updated 35-page Ministerial Code, prime minister Theresa May makes no reference to the EMO tweaks, choosing instead to reiterate her general government vision, first aired on the Conservative Party leadership trail in the summer and often repeated since.
“The mission of this government is to build a country that works for everyone, not just the privileged few,” she said.
“That means putting ourselves firmly at the service of ordinary working people across the nation who are looking to us to step up and take the big decisions necessary to guide our country through this period of great national change.”
The prime minister added that the code “should underpin our conduct as we tackle the challenges of our times and seek to build that fairer Britain”.
She concluded: “In abiding by it, we will show that government can be a force for good and that people can trust us to get on with the job and deliver the change they need.”