Some government departments had 12 different ministers in 12 years - with most upheaval under Boris Johnson
Far from strong and stable government, campaigners and policy experts warn high turnover in top ministerial jobs is preventing them from tackling the country’s burning issues.
Charities and campaigners have slammed Boris Johnson’s administration over the “constant churn” of ministers across key areas of government, with some departments preparing to welcome their 11th or 12th minister in 12 years.
The high turnover of politicians in top jobs due to regular reshuffles, sackings and resignations is preventing Whitehall from tackling some of the burning issues facing the country, according to a multitude of organisations NationalWorld has spoken to.
NationalWorld has created a database of ministerial role holders since the May 2010 general election, to find out which areas of government are worst affected by staff changes.
Housing, transport, local government and environmental sectors are among the worst-hit, with concerns policy delivery and the levelling-up agenda are not being prioritised due to a lack of continuity.
Shelter said the Government needs to get on with fixing the long-standing housing crisis instead of “constantly rotating who is in charge”.
On Thursday (7 July) Marcus Jones became the 12th minister of state for housing in as many years after Stuart Andrew resigned from the role. He was one of dozens of ministers to resign from their position after the Chris Pincher scandal.
This ministerial post – part of the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) – has seen the highest turnover of any government department, according to NationalWorld analysis. The analysis includes ministers of state only, and does not cover parliamentary under secretaries, the most junior level of government minister
But it is not just the housing sector that has struggled with a lack of consistency in the top jobs.
NationalWorld’s analysis shows the minister for local government, faith and communities, which also falls under the DLUHC, has also changed 11 times in 12 years.
Transport and the environment have also had similar issues with the minister for energy, clean growth and climate change and the minister of state for transport both having changed 11 times in 12 years.
Additional analysis by NationalWorld found ministerial turnover has been worse during Boris Johnson’s premiership.
Of the 234 ministers included in the analysis (including now vacant seats), 89 of the changes happened during Johnson’s government. This does not include ministers who lost their roles when he created his first cabinet, only changes thereafter.
The analysis covered the time period from May 2010 to July 2022, with 38% of the change in ministers occurring during Johnson’s time in office. He was only in office for 24% of this period, however
The housing crisis
Housing campaigners across the country have criticised the lack of governmental stability in their sector.
Youth homelessness charity Centrepoint said the “constant churn” of secretaries of state and junior ministers has done little to stop the UK’s 120,000 young people who are facing homelessness from feeling like a political afterthought.
It is now unclear what will happen to some of the priorities of the new housing minister’s predecessor, the charity added.
While powerful secretaries of state such as the health and social care or levelling up secretaries are the most senior ministers in each department, mid-tier ministers of state are often charged with delivering on specific focus areas, such as vaccines or housing.
Polly Neate, chief executive of housing charity Shelter, spoke of her frustration at the “exceptionally high turnover” of housing ministers, warning that momentum on policies could potentially be lost, despite recent steps taken to protect renters’ rights and build more social homes.
Jonathan Webb, senior research fellow and housing expert at the think tank Institute for Public Policy Research North (IPPR North) echoed the concern, adding the changing of ministers can cause problems with developing strategies and getting things done.
‘Every time minister comes in you’re resetting’
Mr Webb said: “The question is where do those agendas go when you don’t have stability? They don’t tend to get completely lost, but they do change. And when you have that changeover you also lose that expertise.
“Even if ministers aren’t experts when they go into a role they are generally able to build up an expertise quite quickly, thanks to the support of the civil service. But every time a minister comes in you’re resetting that.”
Norman Baker, former parliamentary under secretary (third and lowest tier of minister, immediately junior to ministers of state) for transport and director of external affairs at Campaign for Better Transport, said that constant government reshuffling means a lack of expertise within departments.
“You don’t end up with people who know what they’re talking about,” he said.
“[Churn] is a problem, and it’s a particular problem at the Department for Transport because the department is seen by ministers as somewhere you go on the way up and on the way down.”
At the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) there have been seven secretaries of state since 2010, alongside 11 ministers of state with an energy and climate change brief – despite the urgency of the climate crisis.
Mike Childs, head of policy for environmental charity Friends of the Earth, said it is vital ministers have knowledge and expertise in the sector.
“While it would be better to have a minister in post for a decent length of time, it’s more important to have a person at the top of the department that understands the environmental crisis we face and is committed to tackling it,” he said.
“The solutions to the environmental challenges we face already exist – we just need the long term political will to make sure they happen.”
Is Levelling Up at risk?
Adam Lent, chief executive of the New Local think tank, added the changing of government roles could result in levelling up plans being abandoned or disrupted.
“Ever-changing and inconsistent leadership from central government makes delivering policy, making long term plans, and tackling burning issues extremely difficult for councils,” he said
“This can be seen through abandoned or disrupted plans around devolution, business rates and now potentially levelling up. This has put enormous strain and uncertainty on councils in a period where they have faced austerity cuts, the Covid-19 pandemic, and the cost-of-living crisis, among much more.”
Responding to NationalWorld’s analysis, a spokesperson for the DLUHC said it will continue to progress all of its legislation currently in parliament.
“The secretary of state is committed to the clear vision and direction that has been set for the department.
“This includes reforming the private rented sector, improving social housing conditions, protecting leaseholders from unfair building safety bills and levelling up communities across the United Kingdom.”
Number 10 was approached for comment.
NationalWorld built a database of secretaries of state and ministers of state across government departments since the May 2010 general election.
Parliamentary under secretaries (PUS), the most junior type of minister, are not included, unless at certain points in time what is now a minister of state position was covered by a PUS alone.
Displayed job titles reflect the current situation. Many job titles have changed over time. Where this is the case, we have traced the ministers that have covered the current brief, using House of Commons Library data and the UK Government Cabinet website, including archived web pages. Sometimes there may be periods in which one generic minister covered all briefs across what was previously and is currently multiple roles. In such cases the generic minister features in our timeline of roll holders.
There are some job roles where it was not possible to trace a lineage back to 2010, because of department mergers, or because current roles have not previously existed or their responsibilities have previously been split between several other jobs. These roles have been excluded.