How government works
Who runs government
The Prime MinisterThe Prime Minister is head of the UK government. He is ultimately responsible for all policy and decisions. He:
- oversees the operation of the Civil Service and government agencies
- appoints members of the government
- is the principal government figure in the House of Commons
Visit the Number 10 website
The Deputy Prime MinisterThe Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg MP, is the deputy head of government. He is responsible for political and constitutional reform.
Nick Clegg is also responsible for other government policy areas and is consulted on all decisions made by the Prime Minister.
Read more about the Deputy Prime Minister's role and responsibilities.
The CabinetThe Cabinet is made up of the senior members of government. Every Tuesday during Parliament, members of the Cabinet (Secretaries of State from all departments and some other ministers) meet to discuss what are the most important issues for the government.
See who is in the Cabinet
The coalitionThe Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government was formed on 10 May 2010. The coalition agreement sets out a joint programme for government to "rebuild the economy, unlock social mobility, mend the political system and give people the power to call the shots over the decisions that affect their lives".
Read the programme for government and the mid–term review
How government is run
Government departments and agencies
Government departmentsSome departments, like the Ministry of Defence, cover the whole UK. Others don’t – the Department for Work and Pensions doesn't cover Northern Ireland. This is because some aspects of government are devolved to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Non-ministerial departments are headed by senior civil servants and not ministers. They usually have a regulatory or inspection function like the Charity Commission.
Executive agenciesThese are part of government departments and usually provide government services rather than decide policy - which is done by the department that oversees the agency.
An example is the Driving and Vehicle Licensing Agency (overseen by the Department for Transport).
Other public bodiesThese have varying degrees of independence but are directly accountable to ministers. There are 4 types of non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs).
Executive NDPBs do work for the government in specific areas - for example, the Environment Agency.
Advisory NDPBs provide independent, expert advice to ministers - for example, the Committee on Standards in Public Life.
Tribunal NDPBs are part of the justice system and have jurisdiction over a specific area of law - for example, the Competition Appeal Tribunal.
Independent monitoring boards are responsible for the running of prisons and treatment of prisoners - for example, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons.
Around half of all civil servants provide services direct to the public, including:
- paying benefits and pensions
- running employment services
- staffing prisons
- issuing driving licences
Work for usFind and apply for vacancies in departments, executive agencies and non-departmental public bodies.
Work with usSearch Contracts Finder for any government contract over £10,000 and get details of all previous tenders.
What is a policy?A policy is a statement of what the government is trying to achieve and why. Government policy is the sum of all the individual policies – as a whole they help to define where the government stands on broad political issues.
On GOV.UK you can see all our policies and find out exactly what we are doing, who’s involved, who we’re working with (partner organisations) and who we’ve asked (consultations).
See a list of all policies or browse by topics
E-petitionsYou can influence government and Parliament by creating an e-petition about anything the government is responsible for. If the petition gets at least 100,000 online signatures, it will be considered for debate in the House of Commons.
They can include:
Draft legislationWhite papers outline proposals for new laws. Green papers ask for public comments before the white paper is published.
Bills are proposals for new laws or changes to existing ones. Once agreed by Parliament, they have to be approved by The Queen before becoming law.
Acts of ParliamentThese are bills which have been approved by the Commons, the Lords, and The Queen. The relevant government department is responsible for putting the act into practice.
Access to information
Freedom of informationThe Freedom of Information Act gives you the right to ask any public sector organisation for all the recorded information it has on any subject. Anyone can make a request for information – known as a Freedom of Information (or FOI) request. There are no restrictions in your age, nationality or where you live.
How to make a freedom of information request
See FOI releases on gov.uk
StatisticsGovernment produces official statistics about most areas of public life. Statistics are used by people inside and outside government to make informed decisions and to measure the success of government policies and services. Find out about the legislation that governs the publication of UK national and official statistics.
See statistics publications on gov.uk
TransparencyThe government publishes information about how government works to allow you to make politicians, public services and public organisations more accountable. We are committed to publishing information about:
- how much public money has been spent on what
- the job titles of senior civil servants and how much they are paid
- how the government is doing against its objectives
DataPutting data in people’s hands can help them have more of a say in the reform of public services. On data.gov.uk you can easily find, review and use information about our country and communities - for example, to develop web applications.
Devolved governmentIn Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, devolved administrations are responsible for many domestic policy issues, and their Parliaments/Assemblies have law-making powers for those areas.
Areas the Scottish Government, Welsh Government, and the Northern Ireland Executive are responsible for, include:
- the environment
Local governmentCouncils make and carry out decisions on local services. Many parts of England have 2 tiers of local government: county councils and district, borough or city councils.
In some parts of the country, there’s just one tier of local government providing all the functions, known as a ‘unitary authority’. This can be a city, borough or county council – or it may just be called ‘council’. As well as these, many areas also have parish or town councils.
Understand how your council works
ParliamentParliament is separate from government. Made up of the House of Commons and the House of Lords, its role is to:
- look at what the government is doing
- debate issues and pass new laws
- set taxes
Find out about how parliament works
Read The Official Report at Hansard
History of government
Read about past Foreign Secretaries and the history of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) on the history section of the FCO website.
The National Archives in Kew looks after the records of central government and makes sure everyone can look at them. You can visit the National Archives – it’s free and there’s no need to book. The National Archives also holds a collection of archived government websites.