Plans to reform Whitehall which involve breaking up and merging government departments have been condemned as a ‘distraction,’ which will cost taxpayers millions.
The general secretary of the senior civil servants union has warned that issues created by the last major departmental restructure have still not been resolved almost three years on, resulting in issues with pay for staff.
The work involved in creating the four new departments could cost the taxpayer as much as £60 million, or the equivalent cost of free school meals for 127,000 children for a full year, according to analysis by the Liberal Democrats.
The mergers and the accompanying reshuffle will also raise concerns about ministerial churn, with the Prime Minister yet to announce a replacement Housing Minister, who will become the fifteenth person to take on the role since 2010.
The sweeping shake-up of government departments has been carried out to reflect Rishi Sunak’s priorities in office, with a particular focus on halving inflation and cutting household bills.
‘Drain vital resources’
Downing Street has said that the creation of four new departments will “ensure the right skills and teams are focused on the Prime Minister’s five promises”.
But Dave Penman, General Secretary of the FDA, said the changes will cause a number of issues for staff and workflow.
He told NationalWorld: “The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office was created nearly three years ago, and we are still waiting for all the pay consequences for staff to be resolved. Yet the government has announced the creation of four new departments, merging and breaking up three existing ones.
“Machinery of government changes are simply a distraction and are no replacement for clear policy objectives. This reorganisation is not just a change to the letterhead on departmental notepaper but will drain vital resources. The four new departments will need to integrate pay structures, IT systems and back office functions – occupying valuable productive capacity of an already overstretched civil service.”
Full details of the responsibilities of the new departments are expected to be set out later on today (7 February), No 10 said, but a spokesperson pointed out that linking energy and net zero more explicitly made sense.
“I think the public will judge us by our actions and our continued approach on net zero,” the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said.
“We do think it’s right to more clearly pull out the government’s focus on that linkage to long-term energy security because the two very much go together.”
What has Rishi Sunak changed?
Departmental officials were believed to have been largely blindsided by the announcement, which was drawn up by a close circle in Number 10 and the Cabinet Office.
One main element of the reshuffle saw the business, trade and culture departments restructured into four different ministries, bringing with it some changes in Cabinet roles too.
The Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, which will be tasked with securing the UK’s long-term energy supply, will be headed up by Grant Shapps, who had been business secretary.
Kemi Badenoch, who was international trade secretary, will now lead the joint Department for Business and Trade.
Lucy Frazer joins the Cabinet as Culture Secretary in a department which has been shorn of its responsibility for digital technology, but will instead focus on the creative arts and sport. Frazer is currently the housing minister, and her replacement will become the 15th person to take on this role since 2010.
Michelle Donelan moves from culture to the new Department for Science, Innovation and Technology.
The Department for Science, Innovation and Technology meanwhile will “drive the innovation that will deliver improved public services, create new and better-paid jobs and grow the economy”, while the new Department for Business and Trade will “support growth by backing British businesses at home and abroad”.
Liberal Democrat analysis shows that the public money being spent on setting up new departments could pay for almost 25 million free school meals. Based on figures from the Institute for Government, the party says setting up four new departments could cost £60 million. That would equate to enough for a full year of free school meals for over 127,000 children.
Liberal Democrat Cabinet Office Spokesperson Christine Jardine MP said: “Rishi Sunak is looking weaker by the day, and this rudderless reshuffle is the latest proof. This reshuffle will cost the public millions while failing to change the trajectory of this government in crisis.
“Rather than fritter away tens of millions of taxpayers’ cash on costly vanity projects, Sunak should spend the money where it’s most needed. This cash could fund 25 million free school meals.”
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said he did not recognise the figure, but told reporters that “this is about bringing together teams under the priorities of the Prime Minister so we wouldn’t expect there to be significant additional costs to this”.