Yesterday I noted that Gordon Brown has created three new departments as Prime Minister, and abolished none. That means there are now 27 separate ministerial departments in Whitehall, which strikes me as a truly ludicrous number.
On Friday I came up with a non-ideological list of the functions government could realistically be restricted to, now that people are starting to realize savings need to be made.
I'm still in a list-writing mood, so here's a run-down of the small number of departments we would actually need if we scaled back government:
- Office of the Prime Minister & Cabinet (merging Number 10 and the Cabinet Office)
- HM Treasury
- Foreign & Commonwealth Office
- Home Office
- Ministry of Defence
- Ministry of Justice (encompassing all the law offices)
- Department of Health & Social Services
- Department of Social Security (handling welfare and pensions)
- Department of Education
- Department of Infrastructure (overseeing energy and transport)
I suppose the Leader of the House of Commons would continue to need an office to support their work, but it would not be on anything like the scale of the other departments.
Streamlining Whitehall like this would have another major benefit, quite apart from saving money. It would also allow the restoration of proper cabinet government and collective decision-making. It is no wonder that British government has become so presidential – with decisions being taken informally on sofas in Downing Street – when 31 people attend cabinet. It's a wonder they can even fit them around the table.