Downing Street looks set to abandon ambitious plans to reshape or merge a series of ministerial departments, and will instead focus on more traditional priorities such as a renewed war on wasteful spending.
Ahead of the election, aides around Boris Johnson said a new government would merge the Department for International Development (DfID) with the Foreign Office, and create a borders and immigration department, spun off from the Home Office, among other changes.
The No 10 spokesman confirmed a Daily Mail report that the DfID merger had been abandoned.
While stressing that he could not discuss the “machinery of government changes”, the spokesman hinted the decision had been taken to avoid organisational turmoil.
“The PM has set out his ambitious programme to get Brexit done and level up the country,” the spokesman said, citing priorities such as investing in the NHS. “The government’s focus will be on delivery of these priorities.”
In Johnson’s first cabinet meeting of the new year, the PM and the chancellor, Sajid Javid, unveiled a plan for what were described as “tough decisions” on spending ahead of March’s budget and the subsequent spending review.
The No 10 spokesman said the pair told the meeting: “Ministers need to root out any waste, particularly anything that is not aligned with the government’s priorities and demonstrate value for money of every pound of taxpayers’ money that we spend.”
The spokesman added: “All secretaries of state were encouraged to go through their departmental spending and their projects, each and every one, in detail, and ensure that there is no waste, and where waste exists it is rooted out.”
The project will involve ministers and officials examining all ongoing projects, even those begun under the last nine years of Conservative rule, to assess them for waste and also compliance with Johnson’s stated aim of spreading wealth around the country.
Such campaigns against supposed waste or flabbiness in Whitehall are traditional for new governments, and generally meet with mixed success.
David Cameron’s much-touted “bonfire of the quangos” in 2010, intended to abolish unnecessary quasi-government agencies, ended up costing twice as much to implement as planned, the National Audit Office concluded two years later.
Declining to give specifics on what projects could be at risk, the No 10 spokesman was asked how Johnson’s war on waste would differ from others in the past.
He said: “The key point is, this is a new government, it has a new manifesto with new priorities. It was elected on the basis of those priorities, and it’s making sure that we are focused on delivering the country’s priorities. That will mean looking at existing priorities and making sure that they deliver on the government’s agenda.”