Splitting the Home Office

The Home Office, one of the big politicial appointments, is actually one of the worst departments in Whitehall.  It is notoriously bureaucratic and inflexible.  It is responsible for a vaste range of unconnected policies – things that don’t fit anywhere else.  And things are always going wrong.  It sometimes seems that scarcelty a week goes by without the Home Secretary being criticised.  Escaping prisoners.  Police racism.  Deporting ‘illegal’ immigrants.  Identity cards.  David Blunkett criticsied Jack Straw for failing to get a grip of the department.  John Reid said it wasn’t fit for purpose when he took over from Charles Clarke.

So will the separation of the security and policing side of the Home Office from the judicial and penal side help the situation?  Some argue that it will give a greater clairty to the brief of the Home Secretary and the new Justice Ministry.  However, wherever you draw the lines between functions, there are failues of communication and coordination.  Talk of ‘joined-up government’ in recent years has overlooked the fact that, unless everything is joined up, the creation of new collaborative units and organisations merely defines boundaries along different lines.  And it brings new and, sometimes, unexpected communication difficulties, particularly between professional cultures.

Having said that, poor communication WITHIN the Home Office has been one of the problems of the past.  Separating functions out will not make that any better.  But it might not make it any worse either.  And breaking up and shaking up some of the monolith might generate a change in culture.

What is certain is that John Reid could never credibly be the Minister for Justice – he is much more temperamentally suited to the ‘security’ side of the Home Office.  In that sense, John Reid will be benefit from the change – he will no longer have to listen to the do-gooding liberals in the Probation Service.


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