Sir Humphrey savours final taste of power

DIANE COYLE

Economics Correspondent

Stacks of chairs line the battleship grey corridors. Dusty net curtains lie in heaps at the bottom of windows. The basements flood. One visitor reported collecting a friend from a completely bare office so cold that he was working in his overcoat and scarf.

This is Her Majesty's Treasury, banker to Whitehall and at one time to the world. But the visitor, himself a former mandarin, said: ``It felt like a ghost town. All the buzz has vanished.''

As a flagship of the Private Finance Initiative, it is due to be sold and redeveloped before the end of the century. Never luxurious beyond the imposing entrance hall and ministerial suites, it has become extremely run-down.

The one-time mandarin argued that a new Labour government would have to transfuse fresh blood into the department if it was looking to the Treasury to spearhead a new economic policy.

In the aftermath of this week's announcement of draconian cuts in social security running costs, Whitehall insiders say the drastic pruning of the civil service is in danger of damaging control over public spending.

However, the Treasury plans to impose further large-scale job cuts on other departments, including the Inland Revenue, the Employment Department and even the Central Statistical Office. Civil service numbers are due to fall by at least 39,000, to 477,000, in the next two years.

It is just over a year since the Treasury implemented its own ``Fundamental Expenditure Review'' which reduced senior staff numbers by 25 per cent and will shed 250 jobs in total. The rationale for these cuts was that Treasury officials would exchange their day-to-day involvement in the running of other departments for purely strategic control. But other officials say this has not happened.

One senior official from a spending department said: ``For the sake of saving pounds 5m they are putting control of the pounds 260bn expenditure total at risk.'' He said the Treasury could not maintain control with so many fewer staff.

Another said: "Their talk has changed but their culture has not. In Whitehall, financial control over other departments is influence and power. If you delegate it, you give away power and the Treasury is packed with the brothers, sisters and cousins of Sir Humphrey. They are not going to do it.''

This scepticism is not universal - there are spending officials who believe the talk is sincere. However, all agree that the delegation of control has not happened yet.

One described the resulting chaos: ``They are finding out what it is like to have to deliver results without the resources to do the job. It takes four weeks to get any kind of decision out of them. They are managing their work by deadline.''

The Treasury building itself is an apt symbol of the shambles. ``Labour could find itself in the same position as Harold Wilson's new government, with spending out of control and the cracks papered over,''said one insider.

Staff and building

t The Treasury has a staff of 1,140, down from a recent peak of 1,400 in 1993 and around 2,000 in 1975. It is due to drop to just over 1,000 by next year. Total Whitehall numbers peaked at 747,000 in 1975, and will fall to 477,000 by 1997 - the smallest since Neville Chamberlain's days.

t The Treasury's Grade II Whitehall building was designed by John Brydon at the turn of the century - with long corridors to accommodate the queues of the public waiting to see officials. Costs of refurbishment of the 360,000sq ft block is estimated at pounds 100-200m. Work is due to be completed before the end of 2001.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
Sport
football
Life and Style
Agretti is often compared to its relative, samphire, though is closer in taste to spinach
food + drink
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Kelly Osbourne will play a flight attendant in Sharknado 2
people
News
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
people
News
The dress can be seen in different colours
i100
Sport
Wes Brown is sent-off
football
Voices
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey VC
voicesBeware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
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 General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?