Special advisers and the Johnson government


This report from UK think tank the Institute for Government looks at how the PM and his team are changing the role of Special Advisers.

Boris Johnson’s changes to the role of special advisers (SpAds) are disempowering ministers and undermining the quality of government decision making. The report also says that the increased powers and responsibilities handed to certain SpAds, including Dominic Cummings, the prime minister’s chief adviser, require increased scrutiny. The report says Johnson should accept requests from parliamentary select committees for Cummings to appear as a witness. Drawing on extensive interviews with current and former special advisers, civil servants and former secretaries of state, the report assesses the increased responsibilities handed to Cummings and David Frost, Johnson’s chief Brexit negotiator, the effect of greater No.10 oversight of advisers’ appointment, and the way many SpAds now report directly to the prime minister’s team as well as their secretary of state. Closer No.10 control over advisers has helped the Johnson government SpAds to focus on the prime minister’s priorities, particularly compared to the dysfunction of Theresa May’s time as prime minister when advisers had to deal with a cabinet split into warring factions. But greater No.10 control brings the risk that ministers lose a trusted source of advice and the range of views in government is narrowed. The report also calls on the government to overhaul what has for too long, under many different governments, been an amateur approach to induction, support and management of special advisers. Given that this job is so crucial to ministers, taking the time to explain to advisers how to be effective will pay dividends for the government.

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