The Downing Street Chief of Staff is the most senior political appointee in the Office of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, acting as a senior aide to the Prime Minister and a powerful, non-ministerial position within Her Majesty's Government.
The role of Chief of Staff when created had executive authority and at the time was 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. Since 2007 the role does not legally have executive authority, though the post holder remains a very senior adviser to the Prime Minister. The current Downing Street Chief of Staff is Gavin Barwell.
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, since the holder is, owing to the nature of the post, at the centre of the Downing Street operation, he or she will always be influential and 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. 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. The relationship between the three posts was the basis for the BBC television series Yes, Prime Minister. Following the creation of the role, the Chief of Staff supplanted the Principal Private Secretary in running Downing Street operations and effectively replaced the power of the Cabinet Secretary in terms of co-ordinating government policy.
Although the Cabinet Secretary continued to be a highly important role, through remaining responsible for making sure that the civil service was organised effectively and was capable of delivering the Government's objectives, the Chief of Staff replaced the Cabinet Secretary as the "right-hand man" for the Prime Minister. "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."
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 Downing Street 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. As such, senior civil servant Jeremy Heywood replaced Scholar as Principal Private Secretary to the Prime Minister, a position he had held under Tony Blair several years earlier, with the role of Chief of Strategy and Principal Advisor to the Prime Minister (effectively Chief of Staff) being given to political advisor Stephen Carter.
After less than a year in the post Carter resigned, becoming a Minister and receiving a peerage amid speculation that his part of the Chief of Staff role had insufficient authority to direct cross-government operations. Heywood continued in his post, now as Principal Private Secretary and Downing Street Chief of Staff, for the remainder of the Brown Premiership. Upon David Cameron becoming Prime Minister in May 2010, Heywood returned to the civil service, enabling him to be appointed as the first Downing Street Permanent Secretary. He was replaced as Downing Street Chief of Staff by Conservative advisor Edward Llewellyn. Cameron also created the role of Downing Street Deputy Chief of Staff, with responsibility for supporting the Chief of Staff, which was given to Catherine Fall.
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. The role of the Chief of Staff was managerial and is now advisory, and has included the following duties at times:
The specific nature of the position varies accordingly with each Prime Minister and their needs, but the holder is always considered to be one of the most important aides to the Prime Minister, whether or not the PM take a "hands-on" or "hands-off" approach to their job.
|#||Chief of Staff||Years||Prime Minister|
|1||Jonathan Powell||1997–2007||Tony Blair|
|2||Tom Scholar||2007–2008||Gordon Brown|
|5||Edward Llewellyn||2010–2016||David Cameron|