Stationery Office, Origins
The Stationery Office was established with 15 staff in 1786 to arrange for the supply of stationery to 11 central government departments. Previously departments had been supplied by individuals granted a patent to act for them. As these patents expired during the next two decades the Stationery Office took over supplying more ministries. The Office initially superseded the inefficient Usher of the Exchequer.
The Stationery Office soon brought large savings to the government. With the end of many patents in 1800 stationery supplies could be bought at wholesale prices and from 1817 new printing and bookbinding contracts led to further savings. In 1822 the Office was given responsibility for the sale of government publications. Up until 1824 the Stationery Office recovered the costs of its outlay from departments, but subsequently it received funds under the annual Stationery and Printing Vote. This system remained until April 1982 when departments were again charged for their own orders, a change that had been initiated two years earlier.
Stationery Office, 1824-1986
By 1824, the Office's staff had risen to 44 and it was supplying 33 departments. In 1835 parliamentary printing was added to the Office's annual Vote. By 1839 it was supplying 160 departments. In 1889 the Controller was given responsibility for the Crown Copyright. This was extended to cover government films in 1924.
In 1865 the Stationery Office was given consent to print and sell Acts of Parliament. In 1883 the publishers of Hansard became agents of the Office though it was not until 1909 that verbatim reports were produced rather than summaries. The final stage in the Office's control of parliamentary publications came in 1907 when it assumed responsibility for publishing Votes and Proceedings. Between 1887-1896 the Office handled the custody and sale of Ordnance Survey maps but this reverted to the Ordnance Survey itself as the Stationery Office's performance was seen as unsatisfactory.
Other tasks that the Stationery Office took over included the handling of governmental waste paper in 1885 and, the following year, responsibility for the purchase of typewriters. This began its association with the supply of office equipment and its leading role in the use of new technology by government.
By 1899 the Stationery Office employed 300 staff. With the coming of the 20th Century the scope of its work increased rapidly, this was demonstrated by the demands created by the Old Age Pensions Act of 1908, and the National Insurance Act of 1911 which needed the printing and distribution of 50 million forms.
The First World War naturally increased the demands made on the Stationery Office for a wide range of forms, ration books and manuals. Previously there had been opposition to a state-run press but the pressures of war led in 1917 to the Office taking over four presses in London. Following the end of the war, the Stationery Office began taking over the presses in London which had been run by other government departments.
The large increase in work, from 1914 onwards, found that the existing organisation of the Stationery Office could not cope, and in 1920 functional divisions were introduced. These divisions were responsible for a particular activity, for example accounts, printing, supplies. Although the structure has been refined over a period of time, this is how the HMSO functions today.
By 1927 the Office was printing a third of the government's needs itself. In 1921 the Office began producing the new 'Belfast Gazette' for the Government of Northern Ireland, adding to its responsibilities for the 'London Gazette' and the 'Edinburgh Gazette' which had originated in the 17th Century. These gazettes listed official announcements.
By 1939 staff numbers had risen to 4,500. With the coming of the Second World War the Stationery Office was again busy producing official documents but was also able to publish books about the course of the war.
In 1965 the Stationery Office took over responsibility for purchasing government computers. In 1972 the purchase of government computers was taken over by the Central Computer Agency of the Civil Service Department.
From 1972 government departments which had previously been free to use outside contractors for their publication and stationery needs were 'tied' into using the HMSO. This obligation was lifted in April 1982, two years after the HMSO had become a Trading Fund. The moves towards this development had started in 1978-79 when the HMSO began to produce commercial-style annual reports and accounts.
With the advent of cuts in civil service staff in the 1980s the numbers working for the HMSO were reduced from 6,700 in 1979 to 3,500 in 1985.
HMSO and Privatisation, 1986-1996
In December 1988 the Stationery Office became one of the first 'Next Steps' executive agencies hived off from government with greater autonomy and direct responsibility for its own business. In 1991 the office became formally known as HMSO. This trend towards commercial concerns led ultimately to privatisation and the adoption of the title, the Stationery Office in 1996. Responsibility for Crown Copyright was taken over by the Cabinet Office. HMSO as a government body survives to deal with matters concerning government functions.
Throughout the 20th Century ministerial responsibility for the Stationery Office has shifted. Initially it was under the Chancellor of the Exchequer though this responsibility could be delegated to his junior ministers, for example the Financial Secretary. In 1972 responsibility was handed to the Lord Privy Seal and in 1981 briefly to the Minister of State for the Civil Service Department (CSD). With the abolition of the CSD that year, the Paymaster-General held responsibility until it was given first to the Economic Secretary in 1988 and then the last minister concerned with it, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in 1992.