View from City Road: Sir Terence must tread softly at the Treasury

When Josef Stalin was pressed by a French prime minister to stop suppressing Catholicism, he famously snorted: 'The Pope] How many divisions has he got?'. Given that the Catholic church looks set to last a good deal longer than the Communist party of the old Soviet Union, this put-down has not worn well. It nevertheless expresses a profound if cynical truth: secular power often depends on sheer force of numbers. Generals, industrialists - and civil servants - all measure themselves in part by the scope of their responsibilities.

That is one reason why yesterday's Treasury reorganisation is just a little worrying, for it concentrates still more divisions - of the bureaucratic rather than military kind - in the hands of the Treasury's powerful permanent secretary, Sir Terence Burns.

Instead of having seven senior mandarins reporting directly to him, Sir Terence will now have 10. The idea of the permanent secretary as primus inter pares among the three other Treasury permanent secretaries is gone. All the second permanent secretaries lose whole areas of responsibility directly to Sir Terence. He is truly the first Lord of the Treasury.

This is odd. Sir Terry, an affable Geordie, is one of the last people anyone would cast in the role of a power-hungry autocrat. The ostensible object of the exercise is the fashionable management notion of de-layering: cut out layers of managers, prune costs, clarify responsibilities and decentralise. But the proof will lie in the eating.

In effect, Sir Terry has conflated the two layers of management below him. The Treasury's three second permanent secretaries have each lost under-secretaries and divisions. Sir Nigel Wicks, the lugubrious international legman, loses five divisions including the key fiscal and monetary area, which becomes a free-standing fiefdom under Robert Culpin.

Andrew Turnbull, the permanent secretary in charge of public spending, loses 16 nitty-gritty divisions, which go into two more new groups, retaining responsibility only for overall strategy and for defence, which may be a signal of battles to come. The third permanent secretary and chief economic adviser, Alan Budd, has lost the two divisions dealing with public expenditure economics to Mr Turnbull.

At the same time, Sir Terry has created a new 'supply-side' empire under Steve Robson that will deal with industry, education and the City, reflecting the Chancellor's interest in improving the links between them.

Mr Robson now has a larger number of divisions than any of the second permanent secretaries, even though he is a grade lower as deputy secretary.

All this makes sense if Sir Terry can avoid meddling, and allow his new groups to act like go-getting divisions of a merchant bank rather than hierarchical units. But Sir Terry will have to be careful. The other area of concern is women: the departure of Rachel Lomax to the Cabinet office removes the only woman in the senior ranks of the Treasury. An import or five would do wonders.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Financial Adviser

£20000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you recently QCA Level 4 qu...

SThree: Graduate Recruitment Resourcer

£20000 - £22500 per annum + OTE £30K: SThree: SThree Group have been well esta...

Guru Careers: Application Support Analyst / 1st Line Support

£25 - 30k: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Application Support Analyst / 1st L...

Guru Careers: .NET Developer / Web Developer

£45K - £55K (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a full stack .NET D...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence