A critical question for the new administration to address has been how to translate its ambition for the country to delivery across Government and tangible outcomes for its new electoral coalition.
Centralisation of power over the policymaking process has been an identifiable trend – but the continuing role of individual departments and their Ministers should not be understated.
The resignation of former Chancellor Sajid Javid and the appointment of his replacement Rishi Sunak marked an opportunity for No. 10 to increase its influence over the Treasury. This has given the Prime Minister the chance to have more direct control over the fiscal rules, spending decisions and upcoming Budget than his predecessors who are usually more constrained by their Chancellor’s priorities. It has placed the Prime Minister and his top team of advisers in a unique position to take control over both the policy and spending agenda of this administration.
With this increased influence, the Prime Minister faces difficult decisions around policy and spending priorities. He will need to decide if he wants to focus on the new northern electorate, delivering against manifesto commitments, taking difficult decisions early in the electoral cycle, or a business-as-usual Budget. Whilst making these choices he will need to coordinate between the differing fiscal views of his advisers to decide on his priorities and approach in Budget. However, with a new Chancellor, large electoral victory and a strong centre, the Prime Minister’s team are in a position to deliver the Budget they want.
To ensure the Prime Minister’s views are represented in the Budget we have seen a new joint No. 10 and No. 11 Special Adviser team established. This is a shift from past administrations where the Chancellor had their own advisers. This team largely reports into No. 10 and makes sure that the centre’s wishes are prioritised in the Treasury. And, whilst the Treasury machine will still be taking day-to-day spending decisions that tend not to require direct political attention, this Special Adviser team can focus on ensuring the upcoming Budget aligns with Downing Street’s ambitions.
The Policy Unit within No. 10 has long acted as a vehicle for delivering the Prime Minister’s policy objectives, coordinating across Departmental civil servants and Special Advisers to provide advice and policy moments.
Now, with the move to take more centralised control over policy, the influence and importance of the No. 10 policy unit has increased.
They are in a position to shape the Prime Minister’s key domestic objectives, including investing in the NHS, tackling crime and levelling-up the country. And, in the run-up to Budget, the Policy Unit has been working hand-in-glove with civil servants and the joint No. 10 – No. 11 Special Adviser team to shape some of the policy we can expect to see next week.
But, whilst we can expect the Budget to be driven more directly from No. 10 than past administrations, this should not detract from the fact that Departments and their fiscal and policy priorities still hold huge sway. Governing and directing policy across the machinery of government and complex structures is not an easy landscape to navigate. Even with No. 10’s move to increase their influence, mastering a complete grasp on everything that Whitehall does is a difficult feat. Ministers and Special Adviser teams remain crucial – they are the eyes and ears in departments tasked with directing policy, managing budgets, ensuring the day-to-day running of Government and driving policy implementation.
When looking at influence within this administration and where policy is originated, understanding the Prime Minister and his top team’s priorities is important, they want to show progress against his pledges to the country and particularly the new electoral coalition. But, this is not the end of the power and importance of departments. The Ministers and advisers across government will continue to hold significant sway over policy and delivery. Beyond the increased power and influence at the centre, Ministers and departments remain key in making sure this administration delivers for their new electorate, for both Bolsover and Beaconsfield.
This blog has been taken from our new report, ‘The Budget: Balancing Business, Bolsover & Beaconsfield‘. Click here to download the full report.