Cabinet and Ministers' decision making before and after an election

6.5 Before and after a general election it may be difficult for Cabinet and Ministers to take decisions, for several reasons.

  1. The period before a general election is usually characterised by a period of reduced decision-making capacity at the ministerial and Cabinet level, while Ministers are occupied with the election campaign.
  2. Some decision-making constraints apply in the three months before an election. (See paragraph 6.9.)
  3. Immediately after the election, the caretaker convention is likely to apply, under which decision making is constrained (see paragraphs 6.16 - 6.35), and Ministers may be involved in coalition negotiations. In the past, the caretaker period has lasted from two weeks to two months.


6.6Departments and agencies that plan and prepare for a protracted electoral period of weeks or even months are likely to experience few real problems. The importance of such planning cannot be overstated.

6.7An additional practical consideration is the need to make significant decisions in time for them to be taken into account in the pre-election economic and fiscal update, which the Treasury is required to prepare under the fiscal responsibility provisions of the Public Finance Act 1989. This update is published 20-30 working days before election day. If short notice of an election is given, the update must be published not later than 10 working days after the day of the dissolution of Parliament. It must include information on all government decisions and circumstances that may have a material effect on the fiscal and economic outlook.

6.8It is therefore important for Ministers, departments, and other state sector agencies to ensure that all significant matters that will require ministerial attention in the course of the election year are dealt with well in advance of a general election. In particular, agencies should consider the effect of a general election on:

  1. the timing of any regular or annual processes that require ministerial decision or parliamentary action;
  2. processes with statutory deadlines;