The Civil Service in Britain and France

By William A. Robson | Go to book overview

Chapter 9
TREASURY CONTROL

By SIR JOHN WOODS, G.C.B. ( Permanent Secretary of the Board of Trade, 1945-51)

'OH, you must be very good at mathematics.' In the early 20s this was said to me more than once by intelligent and generally instructed people when, in reply to polite inquiry about my work, I said I was 'in the Treasury'. (I had regretfully to deny the compliment--my nearest approach to mathematical distinction lying in my having picked a Wrangler for a father.) There seemed to be, in those days, a widespread illusion that administrative work in the Treasury consisted mainly of calculations so abstruse and complex as to demand the attention of a first-class university mathematician.

It is possible, but I guess unlikely, that today more people are aware of the true nature of Treasury work, and particularly that central core of it which is commonly referred to as Treasury Control.

It is not my purpose here to describe in any close detail either the history or the mechanisms of Treasury control. Some background of fact is necessary; but interesting and important aspects of it will have to be omitted. I exclude altogether those functions of the Treasury which are primarily 'financial' in the narrower sense of that word; for example, the raising of money by taxation, or by borrowing, and currency questions. For the present I defer that rather special aspect of the Treasury function--the control of staff matters--Establishments. I am firstly and mainly concerned with the Treasury's duties in respect of the Supply Services--'Moneys provided by parliament'. These are key words. It is not possible to consider Treasury control of expenditure without first setting it against the background of parliamentary control of finance--the sacred principle which was established only after long years of constitutional struggle, and after centuries of procedural development in Parliament itself.

-109-

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