Driving from the Centre

IfG LogoOn 7 June 2011, the Institute for Government and LSE held a public event to learn from international experience / best practice on organising the centre to support the implementation of policy.

Ben Rimmer, Deputy Secretary (Strategic Policy and Implementation) in the Australian Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet presented his experience in setting up new central policy origination and implementation capabilities.


The international panel shared their respective experiences:

  • Australia - Ben Rimmer (Deputy Secretary Strategic Policy and Implementation)
  • Canada - William Pentney (Deputy Secretary, Plans and Consultation, Privy Council Office)
  • Netherlands - Stan Kaatee (Senior Advisor to the Prime Minister)
  • New Zealand - Rebecca Kitteridge (Secretary to the Cabinet, Clerk of the Executive Council, and Chief Executive of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet)
  • United Kingdom - Kris Murrin (Head of Implementation, Number 10 Policy Unit)

The event was chaired by Nick Boles (Conservative MP for Grantham and Stamford, founder of Policy Exchange, Institute for Government Fellow)

More information

Event report

The discussion illustrated a number of interesting similarities in the implementation function across the countries along with a few noticeable differences in the support systems.

In fact some governments have been adept at borrowing each others' practices as Michael Barber made clear in  Instruction to Deliver . Barber - who, under Blair, was the first head of the Delivery Unit - took pride in seeing his creation replicated in Australia, the Netherlands and at the local level in Toronto and Los Angeles.

However, as Stan Kaatee (Senior Adviser to the Prime Minister in the Netherlands) told us, the Dutch version of the Delivery Unit has now been disbanded. He said it was undermined by powerful ministers and departments, who lobbied to make their own targets as easy as possible to achieve. A process that led to politically damaging newspaper headlines, including the apparently infamous: "'Cabinet on course', says Cabinet."

The Australian delivery unit (introduced in 2003 by John Howard) has managed to survive despite changes of government and prime ministers. It currently exists as the Strategy and Delivery Division (SDD) in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. One possible explanation for this survival is the difference between the powers and roles of the head of government. Unlike his Dutch counterpart, the Australian prime minister is powerful enough to intervene in implementation, meaning a stable support structure has evolved to help decide when and how to use this 'loaded gun'.

Changes and challenges in the UK

So where do the UK and Number 10 sit in this picture? At the start of his premiership, David Cameron saw himself as the chairman of the government, presiding over the Cabinet rather than ruling it. He introduced something similar to the 'Dutch model' at the centre, with limited amounts of direct policy support and a very small implementation unit.

Since then (as our new working paper,  Supporting Heads of Government  shows), the Prime Minister has created a new Policy and Implementation Unit (PIU) of some 15 advisers, with a new Head of Policy Development, Paul Kirby, alongside Kris Murrin (Head of Implementation). The aim,  in the words of Number 10 Permanent Secretary Jeremy Heywood , is to ensure that "Number 10 and the Deputy Prime Minister are better informed at an earlier stage of the policy development and delivery performance of individual departments."

So there are now a greater number of advisers in the UK than the handful supporting the Dutch prime minister. In fact the Policy and Implementation team seem somewhat similar to the Policy Advisor Group in the Kiwi Department of the Prime Minister.

But as Julian McCrae has blogged before,  the challenge of achieving the UK's fiscal consolidation - which impacts across the whole of departments' budgets - is huge.  It remains to be seen whether the current support for the Prime Minister is the right model to handle the inherent implementation risk. Given this context, there is clearly a case to be made for further bulking up the expertise available to the Prime Minister.

Maybe further study of what works for the Canadian and Australian prime ministers would be a good investment?

— Event report by David Atkinson