It’s all change at the Department for Communities and Local Government as a new group of junior ministers begins to address the difficult challenges faces town halls across England
With Eric Pickles staying put there was very little appetite in the broadsheets to cover the impact of the reshuffle on local government. This is despite the Communities Secretary having almost a completely new ministerial team. The general view is that this reshuffle (and, indeed, most reshuffles) do not represent a major change in policy direction.
The Chancellor has remained in post – there is unlikely to be any real change in economic policy. This must be true of local government as well, and after the Localism Act there was hardly likely to be a U-turn.
But we have already seen the instant announcement on planning, and the renewed emphasis on deregulation was clearly reflected in the appointment of Nick Boles as parliamentary under secretary of state for planning. Grant Shapps’ move to party chairman may mean fewer media opportunities for housing, but housing itself will remain high profile and controversial.
It looks like Greg Clark, moved from Communities and Local Government to the Treasury, will retain his role as cities minister, with the focus being on growth, growth, growth. Maybe the media (and parts of central government) should remind itself that local authorities are actually quite important here.
The changes at Health will have consequences for local government – probably more in relation to social care than health and public health. Norman Lamb has replaced Paul Burstow as minister of care services. Will this mean further delays around social care reform? Let’s hope not – it would be too much for everyone if a change in ministers meant more dithering. Norman Lamb was the LibDem health spokesperson before the general election so he isn’t starting from scratch and we would expect he would be keen to get on with it.
It is worth noting that David Laws has local government in his portfolio. We urge the new Education Minister to reflect on the positive contribution of councils in admissions, special needs, transport and school governance.
Where the reshuffle did seem to mean change in policy direction was in the Justice and Transport departments. Chris Grayling at the Ministry of Justice will mean a harder line, which could have an impact on community justice and on the role of local government in the justice system. Whether Nick Herbert’s departure will make any difference to the police and crime commissioners elections is anybody’s guess.
Finally, Bob Neill’s successor, Brandon Lewis, may have a positive impact on the fitness of the department. In the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Challenge, a series of charity fun runs for public sector and government departments, only Permanent Secretary Sir Bob Kerslake took part. Let’s hope Lewis, who has a blog devoted to triathlons, can encourage more of Eland House to get their running shoes on.
Janet Sillett is briefings manager at the Local Government Information Unit