Downing Street Chief of Staff

Downing Street Chief of Staff
Downing Street Chief of Staff
Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom (HM Government).svg
Edward Llewellyn

since 11 May 2010
Formation 2 May 1997
First holder Jonathan Powell
Website 10 Downing Street

The Downing Street Chief of Staff is the highest ranking member of the Office of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, a senior aide to the Prime Minister and a powerful, non-ministerial position within the British Government. The Chief of Staff has been referred to as "almost certainly the most powerful unelected official in the country", and possibly "the third most powerful altogether" after the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer.[1] The current Downing Street Chief of Staff is Edward Llewellyn.



The position of Downing Street Chief of Staff was created by Tony Blair upon his becoming Prime Minister in 1997.[2]

The Chief of Staff is an appointed special advisor or a career civil servant who is personally and politically close to the Prime Minister. The responsibilities of the post have varied according to the wishes of the sitting Prime Minister, however the nature of it as a post at the centre of the Downing Street operation ensures it is an influential one closely involved in government policy formulation and implementation, political strategy and communication, and generally advising the Prime Minister.

In 1997 Tony Blair gave his Chief of Staff, a special advisor, 'unprecedented powers' to issue orders to civil servants.[2] Previously the Cabinet Secretary had been the most senior non-ministerial figure in the British Government, and along with the Principal Private Secretary to the Prime Minister had supported the Prime Minister in the running of 10 Downing Street: This relationship between the three posts was the basis for the BBC television series Yes, Prime Minister. Under Blair the Chief of Staff supplanted the PPS in running Downing Street operations and weakened the power of the cabinet secretary to co-ordinate government policy.

Although the Cabinet Secretary continued to be a highly important role, in its capacity as Head of the Home Civil Service, it remained responsible for making sure that the Civil Service was organised effectively capable of delivering the Government's objectives,[3] meaning that the Chief of Staff replaced the Cabinet Secretary as the right-hand man for the Prime Minister.[4] "Powell had been at the epicentre of power. As Tony Blair's Chief of Staff, he was the ultimate fixer, the Prime Minister's first line of defence against events, baby-catcher in chief. When things went wrong, people called Powell."[5]

When Jonathan Powell stood down as Chief of Staff at the end of the Blair premiership in June 2007, incoming Prime Minister Gordon Brown temporarily appointed civil servant Tom Scholar as both Chief of Staff and Principal Private Secretary to the Prime Minister. This was again altered upon Scholar's scheduled departure in January 2008, when the title Chief of Staff was divided amongst two posts in an attempt to split the political policy communication role from the management of civil servants within Number 10.[6] Senior civil service Permanent Secretary Jeremy Heywood replaced Scholar as Principal Private Secretary to the Prime Minister,[7] and was identified by the BBC as having effectively been appointed the new Downing Street Chief of Staff.[8] In truth, however, Stephen Carter shared this role, being appointed as a special advisor with the title Chief of Strategy and Principal Advisor to the Prime Minister, effectively to serve as Chief of Staff.[9]

After less than a year in the post, Carter was appointed as a Minister and given a peerage in the House of Lords, amid speculation that the changes had resulted in his share of the Chief of Staff role having insufficient authority to direct cross-government operations.[10] Heywood continued in his post, now as the sole Chief of Staff, for the remainder of the Brown premiership. As is the practice in the politically neutral British civil service, the 2010 change of government did not require his being replaced, enabling him to become the Principal Private Secretary to Brown's successor as Prime Minister, David Cameron. However the Chief of Staff role was given to Edward Llewellyn. Cameron also appointed a Downing Street Deputy Chief of Staff, Kate Fall. Llewellyn had previously served as Chief of Staff to David Cameron throughout his term as Leader of the Opposition, and with the salaries of both the Chief of Staff and Deputy Chief of Staff having been revealed to be greater than that of the Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Nick Clegg, so the role is likely to again be the powerful and central one seen under Tony Blair's premiership.[11]


The Chief of Staff is listed as having "direct responsibility for leading and co-ordinating operations across Number 10" and reports directly to the Prime Minister.[12] The roles of the Chief of Staff are both managerial and advisory and can include the following

  • Select key Downing Street staff and supervise them
  • Structure the Downing Street staff system
  • Control the flow of people into the Office of the Prime Minister
  • Manage the flow of information
  • Protect the interests of the Prime Minister

The nature of the position varies accordingly with each Prime Minister, but the holder is always considered to be one of the most important aides to the Prime Minister, whether or not they take on a "hands-off" or "hands-on" approach to their job.

List of Chiefs of Staff

  • Jonathan Powell: 2 May 1997 – 27 June 2007
  • Tom Scholar: 27 June 2007 – 23 January 2008
  • Stephen Carter: 23 January 2008 – 10 October 2008
  • Jeremy Heywood: 10 October 2008 – 11 May 2010
  • Edward Llewellyn: 11 May 2010 – present


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