Invitation to express interest: History of the role of HM Treasury in the planning and control of UK public expenditure 1993-2015

23 May 2016

Together with the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), we are seeking expressions of interest for delivering a study which will provide a comprehensive analysis of the role of HM Treasury in the planning and control of public spending from 1993 up until the 2015 general election.1 This study has the active support of HM Treasury who will facilitate access to key people, files and other documentation. The study will commence in 2017 and is expected to last 3 years. 

In addition, we are also interested in hearing about outline ideas for further related research projects, which should be submitted for consideration under our Open Door programme. The next deadline for submitting outline applications to Open Door is 10th October 2016. Further information can be found at But you can use this expression of interest exercise to let us know about any initial ideas for additional research if you wish to test these out with us in advance for any informal feedback. 


There is significant value to a wide range of people — including current and future academics, historians, government officials and politicians — in recording and assessing how successive governments have planned, managed and controlled public expenditure.

The funders and HM Treasury also wish to encourage a wider range of academic research in this area in the future and it is intended that the new study should provide a catalyst for this.

A recent consultation seminar, involving both academic experts and policy makers, identified the priority of seeing the institutional memory of Whitehall as a key resource for policy research and the urgency of capturing this through interviews with key players. But it also concluded that these qualitative interviews needed to be conducted within a robust and well-defined analytical framework that is evaluative as well as descriptive, and which is supported by evidence from administrative data and records where possible. This would ensure that the study addressed the key questions on planning and controlling public expenditure and that it would be able to offer judgements on what worked well and what lessons can be learned to improve the future effectiveness of government.

The study must have academic credibility but the grant holder will also be expected to develop and engage in initiatives to maximise the exchange of knowledge and the practical impact of the study. An important underlying aim is to help those involved in planning and controlling public expenditure to better understand and learn from the cumulative experiences of their predecessors. The grant holder will also be expected to engage in a range of activities to promote further academic interest and research in this field. 

The successful research team is likely to comprise individuals from a range of disciplines such as political scientists, economists, historians, or experts in public administration

Aims and objectives

The overall aim of the research is to provide an objective assessment of how and how effectively the Treasury has contributed to the planning and control of public expenditure over the period from 1993 to May 2015. This will include addressing the following questions:

  1. Was public expenditure better controlled over this period and why? If so what made a difference?
  2. What has been the role of HMT in controlling public expenditure, and how effective has it been?
  3. What drives decision making on and where does it actually take place?
  4. What is the relationship between Treasury and spending departments and how has it changed, including the balance of control and decision-making? What have been the main drivers?
  5. How has the role of ministers in planning and controlling expenditure changed over this period?
  6. How far did evidence of efficiency and value for money affect decisions on expenditure?
  7. How has the process of the devolution of powers to the governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland changed the role of the Treasury?
  8. How did the Treasury respond to changes in the demands on it and how did changing organisation and staffing affect what the Treasury was trying, and able, to achieve?
  9. How has the growth of external bodies such as Select Committees, the Office for Budget Responsibility, the Statistics Authority and non-governmental centres of expertise such as the Institute for Fiscal Studies affected decision making and accountability?
Expected timetable
  • 20 May 2016 - issue of call for EOIs
  • 2 June 2016 - deadline for EOIs
  • w/c 2 June 2016 - issue invitations to tender (ITT)
  • 9 September 2016 - Deadline for ITT submissions
  • October 2016 - Selection panel meets (shortlisted teams likely to be invited for interview)
  • Spring 2017 - Project starts
  • Spring 2020 - Project ends
Estimated budget

The usual upper limit for Nuffield Foundation research grants is £350k but more may be available for exceptional projects that demonstrate clear added value.

Assessment criteria
  • A successful track record in undertaking research on, and establishing trust and credibility with, with public sector organisations and especially with central government departments (30%).
  • Expert knowledge of public sector finance and accounting issues (20%).
  • Experience in the conduct and analysis of qualitative interviews and documentary evidence in an objective and systematic way such that evaluative conclusions are well supported by theory and evidence (20%).
  • Evidence of proven skills in written and oral communication, including the ability to engage persuasively with senior policy makers and early career researchers to help build a sustainable environment for research on this topic (20%).
  • A track record of successful project management, delivering research projects to time and to budget (10%).
Instructions for submission
  • EOIs must be submitted by 12.30pm on Thursday 2nd June 2016
  • The EOI must specify which people and organisations would be involved in a bid.
  • The substantive section of the EOI should be structured under headings that reflect the assessment criteria outlined above. This section must be no longer than 2000 words.
  • Please send your EOI to Alison Rees at the following e-mail address
  • A submission of an EOI does not guarantee an invitation to tender and the Foundation does not routinely provide feedback on EOIs.
  • All grants are given subject to the Nuffield Foundation’s terms and conditions: see
  • Applicants may use this expressions of interest exercise (whether or not they express interest in the main study) to share preliminary ideas for additional research projects to complement the main study, for informal feedback prior to submission of formal outline applications to the Nuffield Foundation’s Open Door programme in October 2016.

1 A previous study covering the period from the mid-1970s up to 1993 was published in 1995 - see ‘The Treasury and Whitehall: The Planning and Control of Public Expenditure 1976-1993’, Colin Thain and Maurice Wright,1995