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
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Foreign Exchange Dealer - OTE £40,000+

£16000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Foreign Exchange Dealer is re...

SThree: Experienced Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £40000 per annum + OTE + Incentives + Benefits: SThree: Established f...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE 40/45k + INCENTIVES + BENEFITS: SThree: The su...

Recruitment Genius: Collections Agent

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company was established in...

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea