Inter-ministerial group on AI yet to be established, reveals freedom of information request

Gavin Freeguard
5 min readMay 16, 2024

The government has yet to establish a promised inter-ministerial group on AI — but does have them on levelling up, investment and space.

That’s according to a recent Freedom of Information request I submitted to Cabinet Office.

In its response to the AI White Paper, published in February, the government said that in addition to establishing ‘lead AI Ministers across all departments… We are also establishing a new Inter-Ministerial Group to drive effective coordination across government on AI issues.’ But, as of 2 May — when I received the response to my FOI — that group was not listed as existing.

A banana, a plant and a flask on a monochrome surface, each one surrounded by a thin white frame with letters attached that spell the name of the objects
Have a banana: an image representing what AI actually does, from Better Images of AI (Max Gruber / Better Images of AI / Banana / Plant / Flask / CC-BY 4.0)

Three did exist on that date: the Levelling Up Place-Based Reviews IMG (established in November 2022), the National Space Council (December 2022) and the Investment IMG (November 2023). Full details on membership and terms of reference can be found at the end of this post.

Inter-ministerial groups, established with the Prime Minister’s agreement, bring together ministers from different departments for discussion. Unlike more formal Cabinet Committees, they do not take decisions which are binding on Cabinet.

When I last asked for a list of IMGs — receiving an answer in August 2018 — there were 15 of them, which may say something about different governing styles.

As part of my FOI request, I also tried to fill in the gap between then and now, but this was rejected on cost grounds (as you can see from the full reply below). The argument from Cabinet Office is that the information sits in different files and it would therefore take more than 3.5 working days to tell whether they hold the information I’m after.

Given these groups are part of the governing apparatus, this seems a bit odd — not least because they require prime ministerial agreement, so there is some sort of process for setting them up that should be recorded.

I need to decide whether to appeal that decision. (I never got round to doing that on one of my previous adventures in this area — trying to track down missing data on Cabinet Committees during Boris Johnson’s premiership. I don’t think that info has yet been published.)

A big thank you to Politico Morning Tech for mentioning this last week — I told them that:

an inter-ministerial group could be really helpful for better knowledge sharing and coordination across government — AI isn’t just a DSIT issue, but one for the whole of government and the whole public sector. Not establishing it is another example of the government’s words speaking louder than their actions on AI. And government needs to be listening to the wealth of civil society expertise across all these sectors, from justice to health, if it wants the best approach to AI.

Full reply to FOI request from Cabinet Office

FOI Reference: FOI2024/04701

2 May 2024

Dear Gavin Freeguard

We refer to your request where you asked:

“Under the Freedom of Information Act, I would like to request the following information:

a) A list of all Inter-Ministerial Groups currently in existence, including the dates of their formation

b) The terms of reference of all Inter-Ministerial Groups currently in existence

c) The membership of all Inter-Ministerial Groups currently in existence

and, if it does not breach the cost limit:

d) The names of any other Inter-Ministerial Groups created and abolished since 1 August 2018.”

We are writing to advise you that following a search of our paper and electronic records, we have established that the information you requested is held by the Cabinet Office.

The Cabinet system of government is based on the principle of collective agreement — decisions which require collective agreement are taken by Cabinet and its committees, including through correspondence. All government ministers are bound by these decisions and carry joint responsibility for the Government’s policies. The Prime Minister, on the advice of the Cabinet Secretary, determines the membership and structures of Cabinet and its committees.

Ministers are also engaged in large amounts of government business that requires discussion but not collective agreement, and other Ministerial groups can fulfil this purpose. Inter-Ministerial Groups are one form of these and are established with the Prime Minister’s agreement. Ministers are of course free to call meetings of their colleagues, including on a regular basis, as they wish.

The Cabinet Office holds information on Inter-Ministerial Groups. There are currently three; these are listed at Annex A along with their memberships and dates of formation.

I must inform you that the Cabinet Office is unable to comply with part (d) of your request. Section 12 of the Freedom of Information Act relieves public authorities of the duty to comply with a request for information if the cost of dealing with it would exceed the appropriate limit. The appropriate limit has been specified in regulations and for central Government this is set at £600. This represents the estimated cost of one person spending 3 ½ working days in determining whether the Department holds the information, and locating, retrieving and extracting it. The reason that your request exceeds the cost limit is that relevant information is likely to be contained in very many files. Searching all those that might contain relevant information to determine whether the Cabinet Office holds any information relevant to your request will exceed the appropriate limit laid down in the regulations.

Annex A — list of Inter-Ministerial Groups currently in existence

Levelling Up Place-Based Reviews Inter-Ministerial Group

  • Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (Chair)
  • Deputy Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Deputy Chair)
  • Secretary of State for the Home Department
  • Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero
  • Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice
  • Secretary of State for Health and Social Care
  • Secretary of State for Business and Trade
  • Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
  • Secretary of State for Work and Pensions
  • Secretary of State for Education
  • Secretary of State for Transport
  • Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport
  • Chief Secretary to the Treasury

This can be flexed depending on the agenda of the meeting.

Terms of Reference: To drive levelling up outcomes by ensuring departments are acting collectively to improve specific places.

Date Established: 03 November 2022

National Space Council

  • Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology (Co-Chair)
  • Secretary of State for Defence (Co-Chair)
  • Chancellor of the Exchequer
  • Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs
  • Secretary of State for Business and Trade, and President of the Board of Trade, and Minister for Women and Equalities
  • Secretary of State for Transport
  • Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero
  • Secretary of of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
  • Minister for Science, Research and Innovation
  • Minister for Defence Procurement
  • Parliamentary Secretary for the Cabinet Office
  • UK Space Adviser

Other Ministers will be invited according to the agenda.

Terms of Reference: To consider issues relating to prosperity, diplomacy and national security in through and from Space, as part of coordinating overall Government policy.

Date Established: 16 December 2022

Investment Inter-Ministerial Group

  • Chancellor of the Exchequer (Chair)
  • Secretary of State for Business and Trade, and President of the Board of Trade, and Minister for Women and Equalities (Deputy Chair)
  • Minister for Investment
  • Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury

Other Ministers will be invited according to the agenda.

Terms of Reference: To set and drive forward the Government’s strategy to increase investment into the UK.

Date Established: 22 November 2023