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
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 General

Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: They make daily deliveries to most foodservice...

Recruitment Genius: Transport Planner

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: They make daily deliveries to most foodservice...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - C#, ASP.Net, MVC, jQuery

£42000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is looking for a C# ...

Recruitment Genius: General Driver - Automotive

£15500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the South East's leading Motor Re...

Day In a Page

Solved after 200 years: the mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army

Solved after 200 years

The mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army
Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise

Robert Fisk on the Turkey conflict

Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise
Investigation into wreck of unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden

Sunken sub

Investigation underway into wreck of an unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden
Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes

Age of the selfie

Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes
Not so square: How BBC's Bloomsbury saga is sexing up the period drama

Not so square

How Virginia Woolf saga is sexing up the BBC period drama
Rio Olympics 2016: The seven teenagers still carrying a torch for our Games hopes

Still carrying the torch

The seven teenagers given our Olympic hopes
The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis, but history suggests otherwise

The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis...

...but history suggests otherwise
The bald truth: How one author's thinning hair made him a Wayne Rooney sympathiser

The bald truth

How thinning hair made me a Wayne Rooney sympathiser
Froome wins second Tour de France after triumphant ride into Paris with Team Sky

Tour de France 2015

Froome rides into Paris to win historic second Tour
Fifteen years ago, Concorde crashed, and a dream died. Today, the desire to travel faster than the speed of sound is growing once again

A new beginning for supersonic flight?

Concorde's successors are in the works 15 years on from the Paris crash
I would never quit Labour, says Liz Kendall

I would never quit party, says Liz Kendall

Latest on the Labour leadership contest
Froome seals second Tour de France victory

Never mind Pinot, it’s bubbly for Froome

Second Tour de France victory all but sealed
Oh really? How the 'lowest form of wit' makes people brighter and more creative

The uses of sarcasm

'Lowest form of wit' actually makes people brighter and more creative
A magazine editor with no vanity, and lots of flair

No vanity, but lots of flair

A tribute to the magazine editor Ingrid Sischy
Foraging: How the British rediscovered their taste for chasing after wild food

In praise of foraging

How the British rediscovered their taste for wild food