GORDON Brown is forming a ‘Government within a Government’ that effectively gives the Chancellor overall control of most of Britain’s domestic policy. Research by the London Evening Standard shows a sizeable expansion of staff numbers at the Treasury as Brown builds a super-ministry extending its tentacles into virtually every part of Government.
Since the Chancellor took over following Labour’s 1997 General Election victory, staff numbers have climbed from 888 to 990, a rise necessary for Brown’s plans to create ‘shadow units’ to mirror most Government departments.
The Evening Standard has identified more than 26 individuals within the Treasury whose role is to shadow the activities of Government departments and provide the Chancellor with information.
According to Liberal Democrats, the Chancellor is empire building in competition with the Prime Minister, meaning both Tony Blair and Brown have intelligence-gathering systems.
Matthew Taylor, the Lib Dem Treasury spokesman, said: ‘We have seen a big increase in staff. The Treasury is double-guessing every department and the same thing is happening in Downing Street at enormous cost. This is appallingly wasteful.
‘If you talk to any Government minister, you will find that they are increasingly being made answerable to the Treasury.’
Brown is the only Government minister allowed to retain as many special advisers as Tony Blair, with the Chancellor’s quota being 10 compared with the two granted to other Cabinet ministers.
British businesses are complaining that they are giving up valuable time to brief officials from both the Blair and Brown camps, as well as the more usual requests for information from the Department of Trade and Industry.
Sources say Brown has assumed overall control of the DTI’s activities on the development of technologies. A senior executive with one of Britain’s leading technology companies said: ‘It is quite amazing how many visits we are getting from Treasury officials with requests for information that we have given already to the DTI.’
A Treasury spokesman said the DTI takes the lead on a day-to-day basis but Brown chairs the ministerial committee on economic affairs, productivity and competitiveness, ‘where enterprise issues will be discussed in a broader context’.
He admitted the department now shadows every ministry but claimed it was not a radical development.
Treasury footprint is everywhere
IN Washington, it’s known as ‘mission creep’. Here, the determination of Gordon Brown to impose his ideology has seen vast chunks of Government falling under his sway.
More than 20% of civil servants report to him via the Inland Revenue, Customs or the Treasury, and his shadowing of Government departments includes everything from defence, diplomacy and intelligence, to environment, food and rural affairs.
Administration of large parts of the social security credit system means the Treasury has effectively taken charge of huge swathes of the Department of Work and Pensions and left the Department of Social Security administering to only children, the unemployed and the old.
It is even said to be taking an increasing role overseeing Iraq’s economic reconstruction.
The Private Finance Initiative, and the Chancellor’s desire to control future development of Britain’s economy, has seen Treasury officials adopting areas such as Technology and Innovation, Communications and Technology Policy, and Science Policy and Assisted Areas.
The Treasury Select Committee, while applauding Treasury efforts to develop new initiatives on regional productivity with the DTI, acknowledges some of its activities may need streamlining. Select Committee chairman, John McFall concedes the Treasury now has ‘a large footprint over Government’.
One observer adds: ‘Brown is like a spider sitting at the heart of the Government, influencing economic development by the use of tax breaks.’
The position is acknowledged by McFall, who, while backing the Chancellor’s development of a sharper economic focus at the Treasury, says it was always clear Brown would take a very firm grip on the department.