1. Get a Senior Private Secretary who is bright, hard working, sceptical, can handle stress and get on with as many people as possible. This will be an ally closer to you than most of your Parliamentary colleagues. Make sure you look at CVs closely and interview very carefully, this is sometime who you need a watertight relationship with.
2. Read the briefing to the incoming Minister with some scepticism, and get someone else to review it for you who may have past experience in your portfolio. Remember that departments will be reporting on initiatives started by the past government, and being free and frank with you will be new for some of them. The key is to ask what isn’t being reported on.
3. Read the CVs of your departmental Chief Executives thoroughly and ask around about the said individuals. You need to know who you can rely on, and who you can’t. They will all be professional, but remember you are the Minister, you are in charge.
4. Meet your departmental Chief Executives only after you have done points 2 and 3 above. Make the first meeting a relatively relaxed affair, make it very clear what your overall strategic intentions are. DON’T be bogged down in detail (e.g. if you have transport, don’t ask about a particular road) because it will show how easily you can be distracted. Say you have a long list of questions and issues you want discussed, and in particular the purpose and value of the department, and how you could possibly justify its budget or existence. Even if you DO think it is justified, you have been elected, in part, on a platform of more frugal government. Don’t assume that the department you have command of is in fact necessary at all.
5. Read the Statement of Intent and the Purchase Agreement between the previous Minister and your department. These specify exactly what the department is meant to deliver. One of your first priorities is to amend both of these, which cannot be done until you’ve done the line by line review of what is in them and what you want the department to do. Note that if you want it to do more you’ll need the Finance Minister’s approval.
6. You might find there are Crown Entities under your portfolio or even SOEs. They will see themselves as a law unto themselves, which SOEs sort of are, but Crown Entities and Companies are not. Some of them will try to provide competing advice to your core department, some of them will think they aren’t really accountable to you at all. Understand thoroughly what they do and don’t do, what you can do, and remember if you have a Statement of Intent and Purchase Agreements with them, you are in charge.
MORE TO COME