UK Treasury ‘mysterious and fearsome’ – former civil service head

By on 04/12/2015 | Updated on 24/09/2020
Former Head of the UK Civil Service Lord Kerslake

The former head of the UK civil service Lord Kerslake has described the UK Treasury, which controls government spending, as a “mysterious” and “fearsome” organisation.

Kerslake, who retired as head of the civil service last year, was asked in September to review the Treasury by Labour shadow chancellor John McDonnell who believes the department is excessively focused on public spending cuts and insufficiently interested in growth.

Writing in The Times this week, Kerslake said the Treasury had “enormous power and influence” but it was an “almost uniquely British political phenomenon to have so many of the central functions of government concentrated in one department”.

He said: “For all its power, the Treasury still remains, for many people, both mysterious and fearsome in the power and influence it has over budgets.

“Everyone living in the UK is directly affected by Treasury decisions. But they have little or no direct contact with the department, and so there is a strong case for taking an open look at what it does, how it works and testing whether it is best organised to deliver the sustainable, long-term and balanced growth that this country needs.”

Chaired by Kerslake, the review panel will be made up of Alan Buckle, former deputy chairman of KPMG International; Stephen Hughes, former chief executive of Birmingham City Council; Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC trade union; professor Karel Williams, of University of Manchester’s Alliance Manchester Business School; and Simon Wren Lewis, professor of Economic Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford.

The review, which will report in July 2016, will “consider whether the current role, responsibilities and operating mandate of HM Treasury are appropriate for the task of promoting and managing sustainable growth in a fairer and more equal society,” Labour says.

It will also make recommendations to create “a sustainable economy, with appropriate balances between levels of investment and consumption and our trade with the rest of the world” and “a more equal economy, with reduced differences between regional economic performance and prosperity and inequality between those at the top and bottom of the income scale”.

About Winnie Agbonlahor

Winnie is news editor of Global Government Forum. She previously reported for Civil Service World - the trade magazine for senior UK government officials. Originally from Germany, Winnie first came to the UK in 2006 to study a BA in Journalism & Russian at the University of Sheffield. She is bilingual in English and German, and, after spending an academic year abroad in Russia and reporting for the Moscow Times, Winnie also speaks Russian fluently.

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