Reshuffling some January Blues

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Following the departures of Priti Patel, Michael Fallon and Damian Green from the Prime Minister’s Cabinet in 2017, Westminster has been rife with speculation and rumour. A reshuffle in the early days of 2018 has been imminent and on 08 January, the black door of No.10 began to revolve.

This new year, Cratus has been particularly focused on changes at the Department of Communities & Local Government and how the various white papers and policy changes affect our clients in both the public and private sectors.  Housing has moved up and down the Department’s agenda in 2017 and has been rightly consumed in part by the dark shadow of Grenfell Tower and fractured relationships between local authorities, service providers and central government. The Secretary of State, alongside the Housing Minister Alok Sharma, became the face of HM Government’s response to the tragedy.

The all-male ministerial team at DCLG – Javid, Sharma, Jones, Berry and Bourne – has now been reshuffled and rebranded into a newly named Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. Javid kept his portfolio and added an extra word to the Secretary of State title. Javid has pushed for greater portfolio and promotion since his time at DCLG. The new Housing Secretary is ambitious, perhaps pushing against the commentary around sideway steps and promotions having moved between HM Treasury, Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, the former Business, Innovation & Skills Department and then the Department of Communities & Local Government during the lifetime of the Conservative’s run in government.  As a former MD of Deutsche Bank, a move to the Ministry of Fun was considered in the inner circles to be a demotion. This view was reinforced again in 2016 when Javid was moved from Business, Innovation & Skills to DCLG, despite retaining the Secretary of State title.

The renewed prominence of the Government’s key domestic policy will allow Javid to wield greater power in the housing sector. Javid also believes the new departmental title will promote the housing agenda around the Cabinet table. Cratus is sceptical about the influence a change in job title can have given housing has resided within his brief since he took over at DCLG, but with a boost of new talent and resource in his immediate team, our cynicism could be turned around.

Replacing Alok Sharma, the Prime Minister has installed Dominic Raab into the new Ministry. Raab worked in the FCO before entering political office, and prior to his civil service, could be found at Linklaters working as a business lawyer. Raab’s appointment is likely to have come directly from Javid’s reshuffle negotiations.

The first briefing to reach the new MHCLG from No.10 focused on the most prominent item on the May’s domestic agenda – building more homes. The Housing Secretary’s first lines included prioritising house building and a renewed focus to deliver more homes and build strong communities across England. Cratus understands the political difficulties the MHCLG faces and will work hard with the private sector to make building more houses an achievable target for the new Ministers at MHCLG.

One of the early casualties in the local government field was Marcus Jones, a real friend to local councils. It will have been a bitter pill to swallow to lose a paid ministerial position for a move to Conservative Party HQ as Vice Chair of Local Government. This is a significant loss to May’s local government ministerial team. Marcus Jones brought personal council experience into central government as the former Leader of Nuneaton and Bedworth Borough Council. Political Leaders knew where they stood with Jones and his views on LG finance and business rates retention were openly shared. Jake Berry stays on as Northern Powerhouse & Local Growth Minister as does Lord Bourne who holds appointments with the Wales Office and MHCLG as the Lords representative and Minister for Faith. Rishi Sunak is a new addition to the ministerial team, from the 2015 intake. Sunak is the co-Founder of a large international investment firm, is a supporter of free enterprise and innovation and is yet to have his ministerial responsibilities defined.

In the later wave of reshuffling, the promotion of Heather Wheeler from Lord Commissioner of the Treasury to become the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State means MHCLG, after several years, is no longer in the top five single-sex government departments. Wheeler, from the 2010 intake, is a welcome addition to the Ministry bringing years of experience as a local government Council Leader and MP in South Derbyshire. Wheeler has been pitched to help create great places to live and work, and will work on leasehold reform, planning and quality conditions and a rough sleeper strategy.

Helen Grant, the former Women & Equalities portfolio holder and one-time Sports Minister at DCMS and Rehman Chishti, the Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy to Pakistan, join CCHQ as the new Vice Chairs for Communities.

In what some describe as a reshuffle kerfuffle, the stalwarts of May’s Cabinet remain, reported by the media as those who went unchallenged and unchanged. Amber Rudd, a key alley to May, stays at the Home Office and adds Women & Equalities to her portfolio, following the sacking of the Education Secretary Justine Greening who was later replaced by Damian Hinds.

Hammond and Hunt continue in post, Hunt now with social care integration on his agenda. Both remain the longest serving members in May’s Cabinet. The integration of health and social care matches the need for housing as a top priority for local councils. Our Breakfast Series with Public Policy Projects would be an inviting platform for our Health & Social Care Secretary, as we debate the complex challenges for local government and health care providers, having hosted Duncan Selbie of Public Health England and Sir Andrew Dilnot, Economist and Commissioner on Funding of Care & Support before the close of 2017. Our next breakfast with Baroness Jane Scott OBE and Sir Howard Bernstein takes place on 24 January.

Johnson and Gove demotions or sackings were out of the question in inner circles. Both Brexiteers must be kept accountable for their positioning during the EU Referendum and the Prime Minister has witnessed the damage Gove can do to leadership contenders. May continues to keep Gove and Johnson close to No.10. The other Johnson, Jo, moved to the Department for Transport, perhaps to keep tabs on Grayling who retains the title for the shortest-serving Chairman of the Conservative Party in history – approximately 57 seconds. Jo Johnson is another member of the Deutsche Bank club too: greater collaboration between the Ministry of Housing and DfT to address our country’s housing and transport infrastructure could be in the offing.

All eyes, in the immediate term, will be on Javid and Hunt who are both thwarted by a lack of funding and a lack of public support within their sectors. The challenge of integration and partnership working between the public and private sectors will be just as important for Javid as the integration of health and social care will be for Hunt, if May’s reshuffled Cabinet Members are to deliver the Prime Minister’s domestic agenda in 2018.

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