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The Cabinet Office is a department of the Government of the United Kingdom responsible for supporting the Prime Minister and Cabinet of the United Kingdom.[1] The department was formed in December 1916 from the secretariat of the Committee of Imperial Defence[2] under Sir Maurice Hankey, the first Cabinet Secretary. Since then it has developed various units to support Cabinet committees and to co-ordinate the delivery of government objectives via other departments. It currently has just over 1,000 staff, most of whom work in Whitehall.



As of 2007, the stated objectives of the Cabinet Office are:

  • Support the Prime Minister - to define and deliver government objectives.
  • Support the Cabinet - to co-ordinate the coherence, quality and delivery of operations and policy.
  • Strengthen the Civil Service - to ensure it is organised effectively and has the capability to deliver the government’s objectives.


Historically, the most important part of the Cabinet Office's role was facilitating collective decision-making by the Cabinet, through running and supporting Cabinet-level committees. This is still an important role, but since the absorption of some of the functions of the Civil Service Department in 1981 the Cabinet Office has also helped to ensure that a wide range of Ministerial priorities are taken forward across Whitehall. Recently these have included:

  • Ensuring delivery of the public service targets that the Government has set itself in the priority areas of education, health, transport and crime and asylum. This is carried out by the Prime Minister's Delivery Unit, set up by the Labour Government in 1997.
  • e-Government – giving citizens better access to public information and services through better IT (through the e-Government Unit) - see also Transformational Government
  • Promoting better forms of regulation, which are less burdensome for business (through the Better Regulation Executive)
  • Management of civil service staffing (in relation to issues not delegated to departments) and reform of the civil service.

The units that administer these areas migrate in and out of the Cabinet Office as government priorities - and governments - change. Jointly administered with the Office of the Leader of the House of Commons are the Osmotherly Rules, which set out guidance on how civil servants should respond to Parliamentary select committees.[3]

Current ministers

The Cabinet Office is intended to support the Prime Minister, who is also Minister for the Civil Service and First Lord of the Treasury.

The Conservative Party's Shadow Minister is Francis Maude MP.[4]


Cabinet Committees have two key purposes:[5]

  • To relieve the burden on the Cabinet by dealing with business that does not need to be discussed at full Cabinet. Appeals to the Cabinet should be infrequent, and Ministers chairing Cabinet Committees should exercise discretion in advising the Prime Minister whether to allow them.
  • To support the principle of collective responsibility by ensuring that, even though a question may never reach the Cabinet itself, it will be fully considered. In this way, the final judgement is sufficiently authoritative that Government as a whole can be expected to accept responsibility for it. In this sense, Cabinet Committee decisions have the same authority as Cabinet decisions.


The Cabinet Secretary is the head of the home Civil Service and is also responsible for the organisation of the Cabinet Office. The incumbent as of December 2009 is Sir Gus O'Donnell, who took over from Sir Andrew Turnbull in September 2005.

Sir Richard Mottram's role as permanent secretary, Intelligence & Resilience, "Security and Intelligence Co-ordinator" across government and chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee was split into two positions. Alex Allan was to chair the JIC while Robert Hannigan was to act as the Prime Minister's Security Advisor and Head, Security, Intelligence and Resilience.

On 12 June 2007 the Cabinet Secretary announced that Jeremy Heywood, then managing director and co–head of the UK Investment Banking Division at Morgan Stanley, would become Head, Domestic Policy and Strategy; Jon Cunliffe, previously Second Permanent Secretary, Macroeconomic Policy and International Finance at HM Treasury, would become Head, International Economic Affairs and Europe; and Simon McDonald, who was Director, Iraq at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, would become Head, Foreign and Defence Policy. According to the announcement they would "lead new structures in the Cabinet Office designed to strengthen policy, strategy and co–ordination at the centre of Government". It was announced that they would also have the role and title of the Prime Minister's senior advisers on domestic policy, international economic issues and Europe, and foreign and defence issues respectively and report directly to the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Gus O'Donnell. On 23 January 2008, Jeremy Heywood moved to the new position of Permanent Secretary to No.10 and was succeeded as Head, Domestic Policy and Strategy by Paul Britton, who had been his deputy.[6]

The structure of the Cabinet Office, as of January 2009, is as follows:

  • Policy and Coordination:
    • Answering to Paul Britton as Head, Domestic Policy and Strategy: the Office of the Third Sector, the Prime Minister's Strategy Unit, the Social Exclusion Task Force, the Honours and Appointments Secretariat and the Economic and Domestic Secretariat
    • Answering to Jon Cunliffe as Head, International Economic Affairs and Europe: the European and Global Issues Secretariat
    • Answering to Simon McDonald as Head, Foreign and Defence Policy: the Foreign and Defence Policy Secretariat
    • Answering to Robert Hannigan as Head, Security, Intelligence and Resilience: the National Security Secretariat, the Civil Contingencies Secretariat and the Directorate of Security and Intelligence
    • Britton, Cunliffe, McDonald and Hannigan are advisers to the Prime Minister on their respective areas
  • Intelligence Assessment:
    • The Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), and its Assessment Staff, under its Chairman, Alex Allen who is also styled Head of Intelligence Assessment and Professional Head of Intelligence Analysis
  • Civil Service and Cabinet Office Management:
    • Answering to Alexis Cleveland as Head, Transformational Government and Cabinet Office Management: Cabinet Office Change and Governance, the Business Support Group, Transformational Government and the Knowledge and Information Management Unit
    • The Civil Service Capabilities Group under its Head, Gill Rider
    • Government Communication under its Permanent Secretary, Matt Tee


The main building of the Cabinet Office is at 70 Whitehall, adjacent to Downing Street and was built in 1847. Remains of Henry VIII's tennis courts from the Palace of Whitehall can be seen within the building.

The building was originally the Cockpit, used for cock fighting in the Tudor period. It was then converted into a private residence by Charles II for Princess Anne, the future Queen Anne, when she married in 1683. In 1689, both Anne and her closest friend (and later most influential adviser), Sarah, Lady Churchill were imprisoned here by James II after he lost support to Prince William of Orange in the period just before the Glorious Revolution. After Anne's accession in 1702, she gave the Cockpit to Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough and her husband, John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough. They were the last private residents before it became the Treasury, and was being used as a Cabinet office by 1719.

The department also occupies other buildings in Whitehall and the surrounding area (including 22 Whitehall and Admiralty Arch), as well as sites in other parts of the country.

See also

Executive agencies


External links

Coordinates: 51°30′13″N 0°7′36″W / 51.50361°N 0.12667°W / 51.50361; -0.12667



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