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The Treasury today: a devalued currency?

It has been the most powerful department on Whitehall for a century, coming back stronger from every crisis. But, argues the former editor of the Financial Times, in the age of populism and Covid-19, the writ of 1 Horse Guards Road isn’t running like it used to

In his autobiography The Time of My Life, Denis Healey describes his first impressions of the Treasury upon his appointment as chancellor in 1974. Unaware that he would soon be forced to go cap-in-hand to the IMF, Healey reflected that “the Treasury commands the best brains in a civil service which has no intellectual superior in the world.”

Yet the new chancellor already had doubts about his all-powerful department. “Perhaps it illustrates the familiar problem of the Rolls-Royce in a market dominated by the Volkswagen and the Honda,” he wondered. “Whitehall’s obsession with procedure rather than policy has left it poorly equipped to handle change.”

Nearly half a century on, and several economic crises later, Her Majesty’s Treasury finds itself once again under scrutiny. Covid-19 has traumatised the economy,…

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