Cabinet reshuffle: ‘specialists welcome’ minister sacked

By David Donaldson

Friday July 15, 2016

As Australia waits for Malcolm Turnbull’s new frontbench line-up on Monday, the ascension of Theresa May as the new British PM has thrown their bureaucracy into more post-Brexit vote chaos.

The United Kingdom’s Minister for the Cabinet Office, Matt Hancock, has been replaced just two days after launching a four year civil service workforce plan. Ben Gummer has been appointed to the position, which oversees civil service reform, as part of the ministerial reshuffle.

Hancock was only in the job for a bit over a year.

Earlier this week he outlined the government’s plan for how the national bureaucracy should look, suggesting it needed to offer more support for specialists to progress through the ranks, a more systematic approach to training, more exchange with the private sector and greater diversity.

Just last week he gave a speech promoting public sector mutuals, a cherished innovation among conservatives in the UK that is yet to take off in Australia despite some interest from former minister for social services Kevin Andrews.

New Prime Minister Theresa May has also announced the creation of a new Department for Exiting the European Union to deal with the mountain of work in response to the Brexit vote, and has created the new post of Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. David Davis was given this job.

Public sector-focused think tank the Institute For Government has expressed concern about the potential difficulty of attracting staff to work in the Brexit department, which will only be around for a few years, requiring a flexible approach to contract length. A briefing paper released a few days before the change was announced warned of the “serious operational drawback” of creating a separate department, which will be hobbled by “the time, cost and distraction that would inevitably come from creating an entirely new organisation”.

Other elements of May’s government shakeup have already caused concern. She has announced the Department for Energy and Climate Change will be merged into the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, fueling concerns about the prospects for dealing with the issue of climate change. The appointment of Andrea Leadsom as Environment Secretary hasn’t helped, given that her first question to officials when given the job of Energy Secretary last year was “is climate change real?”.

The naming of Boris Johnston as Foreign Minister has also drawn pointedly undiplomatic comments from the UK’s neighbours France and Germany. French FM Jean-Marc Ayrault commented on the appointment: “During the campaign, you know he told a lot of lies to the British people and now it is him who has his back against the wall.”

German FM Frank-Walter Steinmeier said: “People [in the UK] are experiencing a rude awakening after irresponsible politicians first lured the country into Brexit and then, once the decision was made, decided to bolt from responsibility, and instead go off and play cricket,” adding: “To be honest, I find this outrageous. It’s not just bitter for Great Britain. It’s also bitter for the EU.”

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