Rearranging the furniture


I'm generally opposed to the pointless Whitehall re-organizations the governments periodically like to carry out – they bring significant disruption and tend to generate a lot of waste. Plus, you end up with department names like "Department for Children, Schools and Families", which always makes me feel slightly sick. Does anyone remember when the Department for Trade and Industry was renamed the Department for Productivity, Energy and Industry, only to revert to its original moniker within a week? Such is the depth of thinking that Whitehall reorganisations tend to be based on.

However, this idea is not such a bad one. Gordon Brown has apparently told Cabinet Office officials to draw up plans for merging the Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland Offices into a single Department for Nations (another awful name, but there you go). Following devolution, there is little reason to maintain three separate departments, nor is there any reason for each nation to continue to have explicit representation in the Cabinet. Streamlining the old offices into one new department with one secretary of state could even generate some useful efficiency savings.

Since we're rearranging the furniture though, I would urge the government to go a little further. They should move the housing responsibilities of the Department for Communities and Local Government back to the Environment Department, and then merge what remained with the Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland Offices, creating a Department for Devolution and Local Government.
It's brief should be twofold. First of all, the department would liaise with devolved authorities and local councils where necessary, and represent their views in Cabinet. More importantly though, the new department should be tasked with driving power away from Whitehall. Most politicians profess enthusiasm for localism and devolution, but so far a coherent policy approach has been distinctly lacking. Making decentralization someone's job would help get the ball rolling.