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Friday 04 January 2019

Plans to merge Government departments “kindergarten economics”

The FDA has criticised rumoured plans to drastically reduce the number of Government departments.

A Treasury source reportedly told Politics Home that radical proposals could see the Departments for International Development, Exiting the EU and International Trade integrated into the Foreign Office. Meanwhile, the Department for Transport, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy could become a single ministry with responsibility for major infrastructure projects.

The source claimed that reducing the overall number of departments would “release money for the front line”. However, FDA General Secretary Dave Penman dismissed this as “kindergarten economics”.

He explained: "Unless Government changes what it does, or does less — both of which require significant policy development— changing the nameplate on the front door of a department is no panacea to delivering efficiencies. Indeed, every machinery of government change comes with the inevitable costs of merging IT systems and back office functions and creates months of distraction at a time when we need the civil service focused on the job at hand like never before.

"Instead of dreaming up easy headlines that the grass is greener in the USA or Singapore, ministers should be focusing on ensuring that the civil service is provided with the resources and skills it needs to face the biggest challenge it’s been given since the Second World War."

The false economy of the proposed changes was also highlighted by the Institute for Government’s Associate Director Joe Owen, who warned that the short-term impact would likely be “disruption and cost”.

He told the Evening Standard: “Moving desks, changing branding, aligning pay differentials are all expensive and have little policy benefit. These kinds of changes are often more about Cabinet jostling and political signalling than long-term planning.”

Penman’s comments were covered by Politics Home, the Daily Mail and Holyrood.

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