departments rated by team of experts - one poor, none excellent
Department for Transport has been labelled "poor" and
five others "good", including the Treasury and those handling
international issues, by a panel of 12 experts asked by BBC Radio
4's The Westminster Hour what they think of the ministries
and departments that make up Tony Blairs government.
was rated "excellent".
Home Office, Education ministry and the department headed by the
deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, were all judged "weak"
by the panel of 12 judges who were given the task of assessing the
work of the main departments of central government.
unprecedented assessment comes three days after the publication
of the results of an investigation into the workings of England's
biggest councils by the Audit Commission, which graded each one
as excellent, good, fair, weak or poor.
Westminster Hour's survey turns the tables on central government
by judging them in four key fields: delivery, legislation, management
and handling of crises.
panel of experts included two former cabinet ministers, the Labour
chairman of a top House of Commons committee, the head of John Major's
Downing Street policy unit, Labour's one-time director of policy,
a former senior civil servant and experts from the academic world,
the think tanks, local government and the media.
the Audit Commission, the assessment produced "marks"
for each department, which were then totalled to produce a final
Scotland, Wales and Privy Council offices were excluded because
of their limited roles and the Cabinet Office judged together with
the Prime Minister's office.
results, revealed in a special edition of The Westminster Hour tonight
on BBC Radio 4 at 10.00pm, showed the Treasury as the top-marked
results, in alphabetical order within grades:
(5): Ministry of Defence, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Department
for International Development, Northern Ireland Office, HM Treasury.
(5): Cabinet Office/Prime Minister's office, Department of Health,
Lord Chancellor's Department, Department of Trade and Industry,
Department for Work and Pensions.
(5): Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Office of the Deputy
Prime Minister, Department for Education and Skills, Department
for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Home Office.
(1): Department for Transport.
panel of judges was also invited to provide frank, but anonymous,
pen pictures of departments. Some were also interviewed for the
the judges' comments:
Treasury is described as "tough and well-run" by one,
"the undisputed heavyweight" by another, and of possessing
"much wisdom and success" by a third, but also accused
of being "domineering" and exercising "excessive
control over other departments".
Ministry of Defence is praised by one as having "unsung successes",
being "a solid pair of hands" and sorting out other department's
"messes" like foot and mouth and the firefighters' strike,
but criticised by many for poor procurement decisions.
Home Office is taken to task for its handling of immigration and
asylum. One judge accuses it of having "virtually lost control"
of Britain's borders. Another says it sends out "appallingly
tangled messages about drugs, asylum/immigration and law and order".
Department for Transport gets sympathy for the task it faces, but
is marked down for its handling of the railways. "The department
lacks a strategy, lacks follow through on policy and has lost control
of its own policy development," said one judge. Another accused
it of "backing away from difficult issues like congestion charging".
the programme, Sir Peter Kemp, a former permanent secretary at the
Cabinet Office, backs The Westminster Hour's panel as an "excellent
idea" and one which should be taken up by the National Audit
Office as a way of helping central government departments examine
and improve what they do.
Blackwell (Head, Prime Ministers Policy Unit, 1995-97; chairman,
Centre for Policy Studies)
Beth Egan (Deputy Director, Social Market Foundation)
Sir Peter Kemp (Second Permanent Secretary, Cabinet Office, 1988-92,
former member, Audit Commission)
Ruth Lea (Head of Policy Unit, Institute of Directors; former civil
Sir Michael Lyons (Former Chief Executive, Birmingham City Council;
Head, Institute of Local Government Studies, University of Birmingham)
Lord MacGregor (Cabinet minister at Treasury, MAFF, Education, Lord
President, Transport, 1985-94)
Andrew Rawnsley (Presenter, The Westminster Hour; Chief Political
Columnist, The Observer)
Matthew Taylor (Director, Institute for Public Policy Research;
former assistant general secretary and director of policy, Labour
Dr Tony Travers (Department of Government, London School of Economics)
Martin Weale (Director, National Institute for Economic and Social
Baroness Williams (Former Labour cabinet minister; co-founder, Social
Democratic Party; leader, Liberal Democrat peers, former Public
Service Professor, Harvard University)
Dr Tony Wright (Labour MP; chairman, House of Commons Public Administration
were judged on the record of the Government in their current areas
of responsibility, if names or responsibilities have changed since
Labour came to power.
instance, DEFRA was judged on the MAFF handling of foot and mouth,
as well as its own, and ODPM was assessed for the Government's handling
throughout of local government and regional policy.
Cabinet Office/Prime Minister's office was not judged for the "legislation"
category because of its very limited role.
results are on The Westminster Hour's website - www.bbc.co.uk/westminsterhour.