Heseltine becomes a lion to roar in Whitehall's jungle

The Deputy Prime Minister seems more powerful than ever as he marks out his new territory. Colin Brown reports.
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The Independent Online
The office of the Deputy Prime Minister, and First Secretary of the Government, has been dubbed at Westminster "10A Downing Street".

In spite of Michael Heseltine's efforts to play down his empire, the Deputy Prime Minister has produced an "organogram" detailing the extent of his direct Whitehall responsibilities, which is likely to heighten the impression that he has more power than ever before.

He has been ceded a key political role by John Major in acting as the conduit for the party and backbench opinion, both to the Prime Minister and the Cabinet. It raises the question whether in a future leadership crisis, the "men in suits" would first have to knock on the First Secretary's door before they could get to see Mr Major.

He also chairs nine Cabinet committees, including one covering science and technology, a committee previously chaired by the Prime Minister.

There are an estimated 1,675 Whitehall officials, ministers and civil servants under his authority. Although the diagram puts Mr Major clearly at the top, Mr Heseltine appears to have taken more direct control over the civil service machinery in Whitehall.

The details were thrashed out with Mr Heseltine in talks lasting three hours with Mr Major and the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Robin Butler, last Tuesday as MPs voted on the leadership.

Mr Heseltine's responsibilities were broadly listed by Downing Street after he agreed to take the new post on Wednesday as "responsibility for the competitiveness agenda, the working of Government and the presentation of its policies". The Prime Minister's office confirmed Mr Heseltine would range across Government policy, including the economy. He will not be allowed to set interest rates policy - that is strictly for the Chancellor and Eddie George, the Governor of the Bank of England. His office was not intended to become a Department of Economic Affairs, but there could be tensions there.

The core of Mr Heseltine's influence lies with his personality. David Hunt chaired most of the same committees, but failed to make an impression. Mr Heseltine is regarded as a lion in the Whitehall jungle. Behind the civil service speak, he is clearly in charge of all he surveys in Whitehall.

Reporting directly to him are Roger Freeman, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who was put in the Cabinet to replace Mr Hunt as the minister responsible for the Office of Public Service; his deputy, John Horam, the Parliamentary Secretary; and the Permanent Secretary to the Office of Public Service, Robin Mountfield. Below them, 15 Whitehall units with up to 2,000 staff report to Mr Heseltine either directly or through the permanent secretary.

In contrast to Mr Heseltine's list, Mr Major has a small empire of people reporting to him, including the Number 10 policy unit, under Norman Blackwell, and the Number 10 secretariat under Alex Allan.

Reporting to Mr Major through Sir Robin are seven units which, taken together, have less than 500 staff.

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