How policy in the UK works

Houses of Parliament, LondonHow the UK is run

At a general election, people aged 18 and over can vote for a candidate to become their member of Parliament (MP). The person who wins the most votes then takes his or her seat in the House of Commons, while the leader of the political party that wins the most seats becomes prime minister.

The prime minister chooses MPs and peers (usually from his or her own party) to be ministers in the government and forms an executive committee known as the cabinet.

The UK government is made up of the prime minister, the cabinet and government departments. It is responsible for proposing policies on matters related to running the country and for carrying out these policies once they are agreed. It is also responsible for how taxpayers' money is spent. Each government department controls a specific area of policy.

In England, childcare and early years policy is currently the responsibility of the Department for Education (DfE).

In Wales, however, it is the responsibility of the Welsh Government. This is because education, including childcare and pre-school education, is a devolved matter, along with health, language and culture and public services. The UK government retains responsibility for tax, defence, foreign policy and benefits.

Civil servants and departments

All UK government departments are led by ministers and staffed by independent civil servants who are not affiliated to any political party. Although the UK government has a great deal of power over the running of the UK, it is always accountable to the UK Parliament, which is made up of the House of Commons and the House of Lords. The laws the UK government puts forward must be debated and passed by both Houses of Parliament.

In Wales, the Welsh Government is accountable to the National Assembly for Wales, which passes laws on devolved matters. The Welsh Assembly is made up of assembly members (AMs) elected by voters in Wales.


Select committees in the Commons scrutinise the work of UK government departments while Lords select committees look at broader policy issues. The Education Committee in the Commons is responsible for scrutinising childcare and early years policy in England. Recently the Affordable Childcare Committee in the Lords was appointed to consider issues relating to affordable childcare.

In Wales, a range of committees monitor the work of the Welsh Government, with the Children, Young People and Education Committee responsible for scrutinising childcare and early years policy.

In both England and Wales, the political parties in opposition play an important role by challenging the government and offering alternative policy ideas.

How does PACEY fit in? 

In England, PACEY staff regularly meet with ministers and officials from the Department for Education (DfE), the UK government department responsible for childcare and early education policy in England.

We are also in frequent contact with officials at the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted), the non-ministerial department responsible for inspecting and regulating all early years providers in England. PACEY is a member of influential sector-wide stakeholder groups within DfE and Ofsted.

We are also in contact with other departments such as the Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (HMRC) and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to raise sector-wide concerns about issues such as taxes and benefits.

PACEY regularly responds to government consultations and parliamentary inquiries relevant to our members. You can get more information about current and past consultations relevant to early years here.

How can I get involved or voice my concerns?

Have you got a concern related to government policy? Contact PACEY’s policy team. You can also connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.