John Barwise looks at the new growth in the Cabinet and considers the challenges facing the Conservatives and government departments.
Prime Minister David Cameron has completed his ministerial reshuffle with new Conservative appointments at the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and some retained ministers at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).
Department of Energy and Climate Change
The biggest changes are at DECC where Amber Rudd MP takes over from Ed Davey, who lost his seat and his ministerial position in the election. This is a promotion for Rudd, who was previously minister for energy and climate change at DECC, with responsibility for the energy savings opportunity scheme (ESOS) and minimum energy efficiency standards (MEES).
Rudd, a former green finance advisor and venture capitalist, has received a cautious welcome from the green business sector for her commitment to increase green investment and reduce carbon emissions. There was also relief at DECC that the department will continue, following earlier speculation it was to merge with the business department, as part of a Whitehall cost-saving measure.
Commenting on Rudd’s appointment, Julie Hirigoyen, chief executive at the UK Green Building Council said: “Her appointment is important as it not only represents much needed continuity between the previous and new regimes on environmental issues, but hopefully indicates the direction of travel of this Conservative Government on the green economy and climate change.”
Within days of her new appointment, Rudd gave her backing to a new £1.3 billion joint venture between the Green Investment Bank and energy company E.On to develop a new offshore wind project in the English Channel.
Launching the initiative she said: “This huge investment is a vote of confidence in the UK, creating local jobs, bringing business opportunities and providing clean, home-grown energy. The UK is the best place in the world to invest in offshore wind, thanks to the certainty the government is able to provide to attract private finance in partnership with the Green Investment Bank.”
Rudd firmly believes market confidence and business development are the best way to deliver green growth. But she is likely to face a number of tough challenges in her new post. Her commitment to “deliver shale”, and allow fracking beneath national parks will be welcomed by investors but will be unpopular with some local communities and green NGOs who continue to campaign against fracking in the UK.
DECC will also follow through on the Government’s commitment to nuclear power, with plans to build up to eight new power plants in the coming years, despite strong opposition from green NGOs. DECC is still in negotiations with French energy company EDF on controversial plans to build the first two new nuclear reactors at Hinkley Point in Somerset, where local opposition to the project continues to grow.
The previous Coalition Government’s Green Deal scheme, which has so far failed to attract sufficient interest from suppliers and consumers, is also in urgent need of reform. Installations of energy efficiency measures under the Energy Company Obligation and the more sensitive Affordable Warmth Scheme are in sharp decline, following a growing lack of consumer confidence in the industry. DECC will need to come up with something better if the Government is to meet its pledge to insulate one million homes over the next five years.
Andrea Leadsom joins Rudd at DECC as the new minister of state. As a former economic secretary to the Treasury, Leadsom’s appointment could prove useful in securing continued funding support for the department, especially for the Feed-in Tariff review, ahead of the expected cuts in public spending. Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, former leader of the opposition in the Welsh Assembly is the new Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at DECC.
All three new appointments at DECC share a common commitment to carbon reduction and have rejected climate sceptic arguments from within the Conservative Party. This should add weight to domestic policies aimed at improving UK energy efficiency and will strengthen the UK’s push for an international agreement to limit global warming to two degrees at the forthcoming climate change summit in Paris later this year.
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Liz Truss is retained as Environment Secretary at Defra. The role remains unchanged but Truss will have to deliver on a number of legal commitments as well as key environment pledges in the conservative manifesto. The recent ruling from the Supreme Court to take “immediate action” to revise air quality plans by the end of the year will be a priority. So, too, will be the delivery of the Government’s £2.3 billion flood defence and climate change adaptation programme, following Defra’s disastrous cutbacks, which contributed to the lack of preparedness ahead of the 2013/14 winter flooding.
On biodiversity and conservation, the Government has said it will extend the life of the Natural Capital Committee (NCC) until the end of the new Parliament and will work with it to develop a 25-year plan to restore the UK’s biodiversity. Public forests will be kept in trust and a further 11 million trees will be planted. A new “Blue Belt” marine habitats protection plan will also be created around the UK’s 14 overseas territories and Defra is committed to complete the network of Marine Conservation Zones around England’s coast.
A £3 billion budget from the Common Agricultural Policy will be used to enhance England’s countryside, including cleaning up rivers and lakes, rebuilding stonewalls and protecting bees, as part of a National Pollinator Strategy. Defra will also support a “science-led approach to GM crops”, which is something Truss is particularly keen to promote, but which will send shock waves through the environment movement and many in the farming community.
Rory Stewart OBE MP is the newly appointed Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at Defra. As former chair of the Defence select Committee, Stewart’s appointment was a surprise, although as MP for Penrith and The Borders, he is very much in tune with both the farming lobby and rural communities and successfully campaigned to save household recycling centres in his constituency. Delivering on the UK’s failing recycling targets could be a key part of his brief at Defra. George Eustice retains his position as minister of state at Defra
Department for Communities and Local Government
Other notable cabinet appointments include Greg Clark, who takes over from his old boss, Eric Pickles, at the Department for Communities and Local Government. Clark will play a central role in proposed changes to planning, which will give local authorities more powers over local renewable energy projects. He will also oversee the Government’s National Planning Policy Framework, which has been criticised by the Communities and Local Government committee for being unsustainable and weak on environmental protection.
Department for Transport
Patrick McLoughlin stays on as Secretary of State for Transport, with responsibilities for economic growth, climate change and the proposed high speed rail project, HS2. Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Robert Goodwill, has responsibility for aviation, international maritime, cycling and walking. The Department for Transport has recently denied recent reports that it plans to break up Network Rail and sell off parts of its infrastructure management. The Airports Commission will report in July on whether to build a new runway at Gatwick or Heathrow.
But the really big challenge for DECC and Defra and other departments with “environment” in their brief is how to meet their commitments with shrinking budgets. Defra’s budget has already been cut by 10% over the last 2 years and one of the biggest casualties has been the Environment Agency’s Environment and Business (E&B) division, where expenditure cuts have led to failures in meeting key performance targets on pollution. DECC is likely to lose public subsidies for onshore windfarms, but could face more cuts in the emergency budget planned for early July, when Chancellor George Osborne reveals his plans to cut £12 billion of public spending.
Cabinet minister appointments at a glance
The Rt Hon George Osborne MP becomes First Secretary of State and continues as Chancellor of the Exchequer.
The Rt Hon Theresa May continues as Home Secretary.
The Rt Hon Philip Hammond continues as Foreign Secretary.
The Rt Hon Michael Fallon continues as Secretary of State for Defence.
The Rt Hon Michael Gove becomes Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice.
The Rt Hon Chris Grayling becomes Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons.
The Rt Hon Nicky Morgan continues as Secretary of State for Education and Minister for Women and Equalities.
Mark Harper MP becomes Chief Whip (Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury).
Baroness Stowell is promoted to Cabinet as Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal.
Amber Rudd MP becomes Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change.
Priti Patel MP becomes Minister of State (Minister for Employment) and attends Cabinet.
Robert Halfon MP becomes Minister without Portfolio and attends Cabinet.
The Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP becomes Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills.
John Whittingdale MP becomes Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.
The Rt Hon Iain Duncan Smith MP continues as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.
The Rt Hon Patrick McLoughlin MP continues as Secretary of State for Transport.
The Rt Hon Liz Truss continues as Secretary of State for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs.
Anna Soubry MP becomes Minister of State (Minister for Small Business) and attends Cabinet.
The Rt Hon Greg Clark MP becomes Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government.
The Rt Hon Justine Greening MP continues as Secretary of State for International Development.
The Rt Hon Theresa Villiers MP continues as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
The Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP continues as Secretary of State for Health.
The Rt Hon Stephen Crabb MP continues as Secretary of State for Wales.
The Rt Hon Greg Hands MP becomes Chief Secretary to the Treasury and will attend Cabinet.
The Rt Hon Matt Hancock MP becomes Minister for Cabinet Office and Paymaster General (Minister for Efficiency & Civil Service Reform).
The Rt Hon David Mundell MP becomes Secretary of State for Scotland.
The Rt Hon Oliver Letwin MP is promoted to Cabinet as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in overall charge of Cabinet Office.
The Rt Hon Jeremy Wright QC continues as Attorney General.
Baroness Anelay continues as Minister of State at Foreign & Commonwealth Office and attends Cabinet.
Last reviewed 2 June 2015