Monday 17 February 2020 4:18 am

DEBATE: Does it make sense to run the Treasury out of Number 10?

Will Tanner is director of Onward.
Fran Boait
Fran Boait is executive director of Positive Money.

Does it make sense to run the Treasury out of Number 10?

Will Tanner, director of Onward, says YES.

Boris Johnson is not the first resident of Number 10 to want a closer hold on Number 11. Pitt the Younger, Peel, Disraeli, Gladstone and Baldwin all served as chancellor and Prime Minister concurrently.

The two most ambitious premierships of the post-war period — Clement Attlee’s and Margaret Thatcher’s — both had a clear economic mission set at the top. The Prime Minister rightly remains First Lord of the Treasury to this day.

Since Gordon Brown’s tenure, the Treasury has increasingly run the business of government. In the Home Office and Number 10, I witnessed Sajid Javid’s two predecessors use money levers to independently determine policy priorities across Whitehall. This muddies the Treasury’s role as a finance ministry and undermines the direction set by the Prime Minister.

A closer partnership between the two buildings, and their principals, should make a refreshing change, so long as it is founded in common purpose and personal respect.

Fran Boait, executive director of Positive Money, says NO.

There is a real case for more coordination among policymakers in the UK, but surrendering more power to Number 10 is not the solution.
The UK economy isn’t short of problems, with stagnating wages, Brexit uncertainty, high private debt, and low growth. These systemic failings cannot be solved by Boris Johnson nor Dominic Cummings alone.

It would not only be undemocratic to concentrate decision-making, but reckless and irresponsible. If economic policymaking is going to serve the whole country, it must be made more accountable, not less. Moving policymaking further behind the closed doors of Number 10 would represent a step backwards.

If Cummings and Johnson are serious about “levelling up” the country after their Treasury power grab, they will need to confront Britain’s broken economic model. A real levelling up would rein in the City while delivering investment to industries and communities across the country starved of much needed funding.

Arguing over how much power the chancellor should have is a distraction.

Main image credit: Getty

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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