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Friday, 22 June, 2001, 16:10 GMT 17:10 UK
More power for Downing Street

Tony Blair has beefed up the centre of government
Prime Minister Tony Blair is to further tighten Downing Street's grip on all areas of government with a shake-up of Whitehall and Number Ten.

In a move set to revive criticism over "Tony's cronies", three new units headed by key allies of Mr Blair are to be set up in 10 Downing Street, while the prime minister's private office and policy unit will merge.

Mr Blair's official spokesman acknowledged that the changes would mean a rise in the wage bill and number of advisers for Downing Street, both of which have been contentious issues in recent years, but could give neither an overall figure nor individual salaries.

Alastair Campbell: Goes from frontline spinning to a more backroom role
He said that the shake-up showed Mr Blair's determination to deliver better public services - a central theme of Labour's successful re-election campaign - and denied the line between civil servants and party apparatchiks was being blurred.

The changes come hard on the heels of a significant beefing up of the Cabinet Office by Mr Blair in his post-election reshuffle.

Mr Blair appointed Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, Charles Clarke as Labour Party chairman and minister without portfolio, Lord (Gus) Macdonald, and his own former political secretary Sally (Baroness, since Thursday) Morgan as women's minister to what observers note is now a de facto "prime minister's department".

Allies in charge

The structural overhaul announced on Friday introduces three main centres of power in Number 10. As expected, Alastair Campbell - formerly Mr Blair's official spokesman - moves from frontline spin doctoring to head a new communications and strategy unit.

Anji Hunter, formerly special assistant to the prime minister and a friend of Mr Blair's since schooldays, becomes head of a new government relations unit.

Charles Clarke: Minister without portfolio at the de facto Prime Minister's Department
Both Mr Campbell and Ms Hunter worked in Mr Blair's office when he was still leader of the opposition before the 1997 election.

The third unit, a newly merged policy unit-private office, will be headed by Jeremy Heywood, currently Mr Blair's principal private secretary. Mr Heywood will work alongside No 10 chief of staff Jonathan Powell - another pre-1997 aide imported from opposition into government.

The other appointments announced were:

  • Geoff Mulgan, currently director of the performance and innovation unit, becomes head of a new forward strategy unit charged with undertaking "blue skies policy thinking for the prime minister" and "strategy projects at request", according to Downing Street.
    "Blue sky" thinking is phrase popular in management to describe innovative thinking which sparks ideas.
    Mr Mulgan, a former director of the Blair-friendly think tank Demos, was a key aide to Chancellor Gordon Brown when Labour was still in opposition.

  • Michael Barber to head a delivery unit, based in the Cabinet Office, reporting to Mr Blair under the day-to-day supervision of Cabinet Office Minister Lord Macdonald. A director of standards and effectiveness at the Department of Education and Skills, his new unit's aim "will be to ensure that the government achieves its main objectives in the four key areas of public services ... health, education, crime reduction and transport", said Downing Street.

  • Wendy Thomson, currently director of inspection service at the Audit Commission, has been appointed head of the office of public services reform, to be based in the Cabinet Office and reporting to Mr Blair through Cabinet Secretary Sir Richard Wilson. Its role will be to advise Mr Blair on how his government's commitment to "radical reform of the civil service and public services can be taken forward".

Mr Blair's spokesman said of the new units: "These are all designed to help achieve the modernisation and reform in public services that the government pledged in its manifesto and set out in legislative detail in the Queen's Speech.

The spokesman added that the new Whitehall map was "the clearest possible signal of the government's intention to make sure the extra investment in the public services is allied to reform".

He said the numbers of staff in each unit had yet to be decided but acknowledged: "This will mean an increase in the numbers of people in Downing Street."

He added: "We would acknowledge that there will be an increase in the pay bill."

And he insisted the changes did not herald the politicisation of Downing Street civil servants, who "are always very mindful of where the political dividing lines fall".

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See also:

14 Jul 00 | UK Politics
Spinner's slow and televised death
14 Mar 00 | Scotland
Campbell attacks 'dishonest' media
12 Jun 01 | UK Politics
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13 Mar 01 | UK Politics
Government advisers under fire
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