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E-cyclopedia Monday, 23 November, 1998, 15:43 GMT
So what is joined-up government?
Multiple choice time. Is joined-up government:

a) A scheme to give all cabinet ministers handwriting lessons, with "Sir" (Mr Blair) setting an example in chalk on the blackboard.

b) Compulsory roundtable hand-holding sessions before cabinet meetings to enhance a "helpful attitude" and "positive vibe"

c) A policy to make different departments in the same government work together?

Unamusingly the correct answer is of course c). But "joined-up government" is a phrase which goes pretty close to the heart of the Blair project, whatever else that might stand for.

Naturally people may wonder why on earth different government departments do not work together anyway.

Growing awareness

Yet, says professor of politics at Liverpool University Dennis Kavanagh, it has not always happened.

"On the whole, this is not something Whitehall has done very well," he said.

He said: "There has been a growing awareness, which started in the 1970s but increased recently, that more and more problems require action that cuts across departments and therefore the departments have to work together more closely."

Getting heads together

So in the government's Social Exclusion Unit, there are representatives from the Home Office to deal with the problem from the crime point of view, people from the Department of Education to deal with schools, and people from the Department of the Environment to deal with bad housing.

The Enforcer
The appointment of Jack Cunningham as the "Cabinet Enforcer" was intended to ensure that the different arms of goverment did work together (as well as ensuring that maverick ministers did not speak out of turn).

However, the reception given to the concept of joined-up government has been a bit chilly from some parts of the media.

For instance, Simon Hoggart wrote in the Guardian that it was a "sneery, condescending phrase that has the dabs of the Downing Street neologicians all over it".

Others have said the phrase is designed to imply that this government is simply more grown-up than previous administrations - "crayon governments" perhaps.

Dennis Kavanagh said it was not surprising if journalists were jaded with the number of soundbites coming from the government, but said that he thought the effort behind joined-up government was right.

The latest outing of the concept was in Health Secretary Frank Dobson's response to the Utting Report on children who had been abused in care.

Mr Dobson cited a long list of people responsible for allowing the abuse to continue.

"This wasn't just a failure by the staff directly concerned. It was a failure by social services managers, by councils, by councillors, the police, the court system, schools, voluntary organisations, neighbours, the news media, government departments, ministers and Parliament," he said.

If joined-up government did succeed in stopping repetition of the scandal of children, it would be a brave person who criticised it.

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16 Oct 98 | Matrix
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