Split the Home Office?

Most (though not all) of the recent failings of this government have been in one department, namely the Home Office (e.g. the latest one of employing illegal immigrants as cleaners). The Home Office is a curious beast – rather than set up with a particular and specific mandate, when the department’s ancestor was set up in 1782, it was given a mandate to do more or less everything that wasn’t to do with foreign affairs. Since then, it has been stripped of various powers, leaving a higgledy-piggledy arrangement behind – everything from serious crime to turning the clocks back.

To leave just one person in charge of such a wide range of responsibilities is an obvious folly; for all the good talk of “joined up government”, we seem to be at the other extreme, that of an enormous, unmanageable bureaucracy that no-one can take control of. Splitting the Home Office into two or even three distinct departments – the police, criminal justice and immigration functions, each with a Cabinet-level minister in charge – seems an option worth exploring (as entertained in a BBC report from last month). Yes the three functions overlap somewhat, but crime and public safety also overlap with wealth, health, education and even nutrition (apparently) and we have separate departments for them. Splitting the functions would not only give ministers more control over their domains but would help provide better accountability; ministers would be less able to hide behind the usual excuses of bureaucracy and institutional difficulties.

Maybe. Still entertaining this idea and by no means totally decided. No doubt someone will point out the problems in the comments…