Ministers, departments and the civil service

  • Bill Coxall
  • Lynton Robins
  • Robert Leach


In the last chapter the focus was on the central direction and coordination of policy in Britain by the core executive, with particular reference to the prime minister and the Cabinet. However, the proportion of departmental decisions that are either sufficiently important or controversial to be taken to Cabinet has become very small indeed, and the vast majority of governmental decisions are made in departments. Not only do departments take the bulk of decisions — from the relatively minor to the undeniably major — it is no accident that they do so. For whenever new responsibilities are created by legislation, Parliament confers them squarely upon departments. New powers developed by statute are given to ministers, not to the Cabinet or the prime minister. The political and administrative importance of departments stems directly from their legal-constitutional pre-eminence. How decisions are taken within departments is consequently of vital significance in British government.


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Further reading

  1. For extracts from a wide range of sources, including some key public documents, see Barberis (1996). Among broad surveys see Pyper (1995) and Drewry and Butcher (1991). On the post-war history, Hennessy (1990) and Theakston (1995) should be consulted. On relations between minister and civil servants, see Theakston (in Pyper and Robins, 1995) and Smith, Marsh and Richards (in Rhodes and Dunleavy, 1995). For analysis of the role and power of senior civil servants see Theakston (1999).Google Scholar
  2. On ministerial responsibility, see Woodhouse (1994), Marshall, (1989, 1991), Pyper (1991, 1994) and Gray (1996/7), who provide authoritative analyses.Google Scholar
  3. On civil service reform since 1979, see Hood and James (in Dunleavy et al., 1997) and Butcher (in Pyper and Robins, 1995). There is relatively little on civil service reform since 1997, perhaps because there is relatively little yet to report (at least compared with radical changes elsewhere). Thus Gavin Drewry in Blackburn and Plant (1999) and in Jowell and Oliver (2000), Andrew Massey in Savage and Atkinson (2001) and Rod Rhodes in Seldon (2001) devote more space to discussing New Labour’s ‘administrative inheritance’ and speculating about the future than analysing substantive reforms. The White Paper Modernising Government (1999) may also be consulted.Google Scholar


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Copyright information

© Bill Coxall, Lynton Robins and Robert Leach 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bill Coxall
  • Lynton Robins
  • Robert Leach

There are no affiliations available

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