This has been an unexpectedly big bumper reshuffle for the Coalition, saving up over two years worth of changes for the mid point in the Coalition’s life span. The reshuffle has all the fingerprints of George Osborne’s presence in creating a ministerial team much tougher and more distinct from the Lib Dems.
One of the few changes which failed to go through as planned was the move of Iain Duncan Smith from the department of work and pensions, who managed to stay put despite having held out against deeper cuts to the welfare budget. Otherwise, it has been a surprisingly smooth reshuffle, with the oldest of the team, Ken Clarke, staying on as an economic guru to the Prime Minister rather than returning to the back benches 40 years after his first rung on the ministerial ladder.
The Department of Environment, Food & Rural Affairs gets a climate change sceptic new Secretary of State in the form of Owen Paterson, a right wing replacement for the more moderate Caroline Spelman. Business can expect a lighter regulatory burden in line with the new Treasury mantra that growth comes ahead of green.
At the Department of Energy & Climate Change there is a new energy minister, John Hayes, who is self evidently not into renewables and keen on fossil fuels. A tougher time to be promoting wind turbines but better news for coal, oil and gas.
At Transport, the new Secretary of State, Patrick McLoughlin, will start the process of managing the conversion to a Heathrow expansion commitment for the 2015 general election manifesto. A former miner, McLoughlin will lock horns with Boris Johnson on the need for a third runway.
The lack of change at the top of Department of Communities and Local Government belies a raft of changes among the rest of the ministerial team. While Eric Pickle’s considerable presence will continue to occupy the top post driving planning, regeneration and local government matters, the slim line Nick Boles takes over from Greg Clark as the policy-making brains in the department, in charge of what is left of the Localism agenda.
Boles has form on planning having been a leading light at think tank Policy Exchange in the early Cameron years, when Policy Exchange boldly proposed building more homes on the green belt in order to reduce the shortage of homes in the south east. The policy did not find favour at the time, but if you wait long enough in politics most proposals have their day. We are clearly moving to the end game in delivering the big gaps in local housing delivery with selective land release in the countryside. Boles is uber-Cameron with the Policy Exchange credentials placing him close to the Downing Street core of Cameron, Osborne and Michael Gove and a natural choice for delivering the change in gear at DCLG.
Mark Prisk makes a sideways move from the Business Department to DCLG to take over from the housing minister Grant Shapps. Prisk is a former Chartered Surveyor who takes a practical approach to business and development. He will be firmly focused on speeding up public sector led regeneration and ensuring local government delivers its own stream of social housing renewal.
The big surprise is that ‘safe-pair-of-hands’ Bob Neill is retired from the government, to be replaced by Brandon Lewis MP. Lewis has a strong background in local government, having been Leader of Brentwood Council in Essex from 2004 to 2009. He is also well connected to his new boss at DCLG, having been campaign manager for Pickles’ re-election campaign for Brentwood & Ongar in 2005.
The Lib Dems, under Nick Clegg’s parallel mini-reshuffle, substitute their man at DCLG with longstanding Bath MP Don Foster. He takes over from the not very well known Andrew Stunnell as part of the general fairness-for-all approach of ensuring most Lib Dem MPs get a turn with the ministerial car and red box before 2015.
Lastly, no change for the DCLG ministerial presence in the Lords, where Baroness Hanham stays on. Hanham has a rather modest brief within the department, focused on driving improvement in local government procurement and value for money, but in the Lords she answers across the full reach of DCLG activity. A former leader of the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea, she know the DCLG brief thoroughly.
This reshuffle marks a toughening of the Conservative led coalition’s position on business and growth. The soft ‘greenest government ever’ agenda is essentially formally dead, with a new team on board to implement the go-for-growth first announced a year ago by George Osborne in the 2011 Budget Statement.
On the horizon we can look forward to a bonfire of regulations identified as slowing planning and housing. The Penfold Review package of measures to speed up development will be taken forward through primary and secondary legislation. The package of measures will be published very soon as part of the growth and jobs legislative programme and we will advise you on this in the next few days.
Written by Nick Sutcliffe