MPs summon Prescott to ask him what he is doing

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Indy Politics

John Prescott has been summoned by MPs to explain exactly what he is doing in his new role after growing concern that Tony Blair's post-election shake-up has created a bureaucratic bog at the heart of the Government.

The Deputy Prime Minister moved from the disbanded Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions to run the Cabinet Office as cabinet co-ordinator, ensuring Labour delivers its promises on improved public services.

But some cabinet ministers worry that the shuffle has created a network of overlapping "command and control" centres. Mr Blair has set up a Delivery Unit, an Office of Public Sector Reform and a Performance and Innovation Unit, while Lord Birt will work in a new Forward Strategy Unit. Mr Blair has merged the Downing Street Policy Unit with his office.

"There are too many chiefs and not enough Indians," one minister said on Thursday. "It's a recipe for turf wars."

Speculation that Mr Prescott has been sidelined has been fuelled by the uncharacteristically low profile he adopted during his period in charge while Mr Blair was on a summer holiday, which ended on Thursday. In previous summers, Mr Prescott has been accused of gaffes while minding the shop.

MPs on the Commons Public Administration Select Committee have written to Mr Prescott asking him to appear this autumn to explain his role and how the system will work.

In a letter to the Cabinet Office, the MPs stated: "The committee would like to take evidence from Mr Prescott on his whole range of responsibilities, including the operation of his office and its relationships with other parts of the Government, as well as his work on cabinet committees (especially Domestic Affairs).

"A special emphasis will be laid on whether the new structure will help to improve the delivery of public services."

The MPs believe that contradictory statements were issued in the aftermath of the election, when Number 10 said Mr Prescott "will act with the full authority of the Prime Minister in overseeing the delivery of manifesto pledges", while Mr Prescott issued a statement saying his deputy, Lord Macdonald, would report directly to Mr Blair and have "day-to-day responsibility for the working of the Delivery Unit, which supports the Prime Minister on matters to do with the delivery of public services."

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