The prime minister is breaking the department for Business, Energy, Innovation and Science into three — a Department for Energy Security, a Department for Business and Trade and a Department for Science, Innovation and Technology. His allies say this will better reflect his priorities.
Shapps, the business secretary, will become the new energy security minister. Badenoch, the trade secretary, will lead the newly merged business and trade department. Discussions are ongoing about who should lead the science and technology department.
Greg Hands, the trade minister, will be promoted to the role of Conservative Party chairman after Nadhim Zahawi was sacked over his tax affairs.
As a result of the changes, which are larger than expected and have been kept a closely guarded secret, today’s cabinet meeting has been pushed back until 3pm, to give Sunak time to carry out today’s reshuffle.
Dominic Raab, the deputy prime minister and justice secretary, is expected to remain in his role pending the outcome of an inquiry into allegations of bullying. Raab has denied any wrongdoing and allies rejected any suggestion that he would resign.
Sunak’s larger-than-expected shake-up will see new departments created
The larger-than-expected shake-up is expected to see the creation of a new Department of Science, Innovation and Technology, led by a cabinet minister (writes Oliver Wright).
There will also be a new Energy Department, with responsibility for the government’s net zero policy. Finally the rest of the Business Department will be merged with the Department of International Trade.
That leaves existing ministers with new briefs to fill.
Grant Shapps, the business secretary, is expected to lead one of these new departments, while Michelle Donelan, the culture secretary, is also highly rated by Sunak and could be promoted. It is unclear whether Kemi Badenoch, the international trade secretary, will get the expanded business brief.
Sunak’s department changes might be right, but are they politically wise?
Rishi Sunak is taking a significant risk with today’s reshuffle — but the danger lurks not so much with the political noses he puts out of joint, but the official ones (writes Oliver Wright).
Because alongside replacing Nadhim Zahawi as party chairman, Sunak is preparing to re-wire a significant chunk of Whitehall — potentially creating up to three new departments to align to his own political priorities.
But such machinery of government changes (as they are known) are almost never as straightforward as they sound and become time-consuming, disruptive — and sometimes even counterproductive.
Indeed, even Liz Truss was talked out of making a similar set of changes when she entered Downing Street.
What Sunak appears to want to do is split up the existing ministry of Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), which has long been seen as sprawling and unwieldy, into two or three new departments.
In its place, Sunak will revert to the New Labour model of a Ministry of Energy (and climate change), while the rest of the Business Department will merge with the Department of International Trade.
Digital policy is also expected to be hived off from the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport — putting it with the science element of BEIS and possibly forming a separate department.
This sounds sensible on paper and would align with Sunak’s overarching goal of trying to make the UK a world leader in the industries of the future.
But in practice all such change is a nightmare.
For a start, different government departments use different IT systems and have separate back office functions, including pay systems.
You then need to physically move staff so that the new departments are all in the same place. Some staff won’t want to move — either jobs or offices. Some people’s noses will be put out of joint. Each new department will not only need a new secretary of state but a new senior leadership team in the civil service as well. Budgets will have to be split and agreed with the Treasury. Even the letterheads will need to change.
As anyone who has worked in a large organisation knows, such changes are at best distracting — and can become far more important than the day job.
Not only that, but Whitehall is often (justly) accused of winding down before elections when the government party looks like it is on the way out.
These changes could simply exacerbate that tendency.
That should be a worry for Sunak, who needs to show tangible progress on his priorities — not in five years’ time, but by early next year if he has any chance of winning the next election.
These changes might be the right thing to do — but they are not necessarily politically wise at the moment.
As Sir Humphrey might have said: “That’s very brave prime minister.”PP