Home Office `should do more to find out what ministers want'

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Stringent criticism of the culture of the Home Office and of its "impenetrable" policy submissions to ministers, which often read like "an All Souls prize essay", came yesterday from a review of its senior management.

One in four top management posts - those from assistant secretary up - should go, the review says. The recommendation is the first stage in a process that is eventually likely to see hundreds of posts disappear in the wake of the 600 being cut at the Treasury and the 1,000 going at the Department of Health.

Past Conservative ministers and their advisers saw the department as "unjustifiably obstructive" on occasion, with "too many blocking mechanisms", the report says.

The department, the review adds, needs to have a "strategic vision" shared with ministers and to do more to find out what ministers' want. The report, which recommends a cut in top posts from 79 to 60 by next year and eventually to 56, has raised fears in the department that it is being told to become more in tune with the right-wing views of Michael Howard and other Conservative ministers.

That charge was denied by senior Home Office sources. "This is a management, not a political document," one said.

The review says the Home Office had "always been a closed department" and "some saw this as getting worse recently". It is praised, however, for having "great intellectual ability" and former ministers commended both its "sense of integrity and honour" and "its role in protecting the rights and freedoms of the citizen". In the eyes of one former minister it had "a certain liberal tradition which it was right to maintain"

In a letter to all staff, Richard Wilson, the Permanent Secretary, said the review showed "our performance falls short of what Ministers and the public want from us, and the Home Office must change. We need to meet the demands of Ministers and the public better."

Final decisions on the recommendations will be taken in September.