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Time to Consolidate Government Departments?

    The government is committed to seeking better value for money, but an obvious source of common-sense savings has been ignored. There are 25 ministerial departments in the government, far more than is necessary; in 1980 the government had far more power, but there were only 18 departments. Many perform roles that ought to be within the remit of another department. Consolidating them would provide substantial efficiency savings with minimal political cost.

    The clearest targets for consolidation are the Wales Office (WO), Scotland Office (SO) and Northern Ireland Office (NIO). The devolution of powers to regional governments has seen these departments become, in effect, the government body that works with their respective devolved governments. The Department for Communities and Local Governments does the same thing for other, far more numerous, devolved authorities. In 2015/16 the costs of running the WO, SO and NIO were £3.9 million, £12.4 million, and £19.7 million, a total of £36 million; the vast majority of this could be recouped by placing their roles into a new Communities and Local Governments department. Such a department could also be of service in promoting a coherent strategy for handling devolution at all levels.

    Then we have the four departments tasked with our foreign policy. Of these, the Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU) will presumably dissolve shortly after Brexit has occurred, saving the money used to run it.  It is estimated that DExEU will cost up to £65 million a year. The Department for International Trade (DIT) and the Department for International Development (DFID) have roles that would be best performed by a single department that brings together all the foreign policy expertise of the civil service, like an expanded Foreign and Commonwealth Office. DIT has not yet published a yearly accounts, but it spends £26.5 million on contractors alone, and the annual costs of running DFID are given at £101 million: the efficiencies of merging them into the FCO would save much of this sum, and bringing together foreign policy expertise may even improve their efficacy

    Closer to home, our industrial policy is effectively set by three departments: Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), and the Department for Transport (DfT). Agriculture, fisheries and transport are industries populated by businesses, and so could fit into BIS’ remit, perhaps even making for a more integrated approach to our industries, and a transport system that better responds to the needs of businesses. The costs of operating DfT in 2015-16 were £372 million, and DEFRA in 2015-16 cost £351 million to run. A substantial fraction of this could be saved on top of the benefits of a more integrated approach to the business world, although a large fraction would still need to be spent on those specialist services the merged department would provide.

    The savings from these consolidations, assuming even half the administrative costs are recouped, would run into the hundreds of millions. It wouldn’t close the deficit, but would be a fair step towards it. By bringing relevant expertise, the enlarged departments could well be more effective than the sum of their parts. What’s more, the consolidations would also demonstrate bold reformism and a commitment to seeking value for the taxpayers. A possibility worth considering.

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    Comments

    guy thomas - About 563 days ago

    great recommendation we have a far too many ministry's I have supported mergers to improve policy cost and delivery you forgot to recommend the merger of the culture/sports ministry with BEIS as they both control the business policy of the uk although the northern Ireland office will remain due to its unique responsibilities including security. I hope post brexit we can cull ministries but give them powers exercised by the EU

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    Julian Hawksworth - About 560 days ago

    The supposed "bonfire of the quangos", never seems to have actually happened. At least, not on a sufficient scale; to make the savings which could be made? Therefore, I see this article as a basis for government; to consolidate departments (and potentially save hundreds of millions of pounds for taxpayers). In addition, it should allow for a greater "pooling of resources" (or "expertise" as suggested in the article). It would follow, that decision-making might actually be quicker? The risk of similar tasks or functions being duplicated, would also be lessened? Of course, there would be obstacles and opposition to the consolidation of government departments - from trade union leaders (and their members), government department heads; and so on. And yet, governments must make more effort; to "think the unthinkable" (so to speak) (a term famously used by MP Frank Field if my memory serves me correctly)? In other words, to be bolder in terms of actually going ahead; with new policy initiatives? Furthermore, the problem of short-termism with our politicians will continue; so long as they continue to plan with Parliamentary terms in mind (rather than planning ahead for far longer than that in the UK's national interest)?

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