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Swimming for Their Lives—Waving or Drowning? A Review of the Evidence of Ministerial Overload and of Potential Remedies for It



    1. Former United Kingdom Senior Civil Servant, a Fellow of the Ashridge Public Leadership Centre and an Associate of the National School of Government.
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There is a range of evidence pointing to the problem of overload on government ministers in both the UK and other Westminster-system countries. This article reviews evidence from the time of Gladstone to the present day, concentrating on evidence relating to the last twenty five years. It surveys the comments and opinions of serving and retired politicians and of academic commentators, assessing the contention that the burden on ministers has increased, is likely to continue to increase, and ought to be diminished. It goes on to look at what have been put forward as potential solutions and explores the extent to which they might offer some respite. Finally, the article concludes that the remedy to the problems involved largely lies in the hands of ministers and their closest advisers, and suggests that it is in all our interests that options to reduce overload should be further explored and implemented.