New government departments are ‘re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic’ amid multiple crises
Prime minister Rishi Sunak vowed to cut sky-high energy bills on 7 February as he reshuffled the cabinet. Sunak created four new departments in his first cabinet overhaul since become prime minster in October 2022. It was played as a bid to salvage the Conservatives’ chances in the upcoming May local elections.
The new ministries are:
- The Department for Energy Security and Net Zero
- The Department for Science, Innovation and Technology
- The Department for Business and Trade
- The Department for Culture, Media and Sport
The final department is, of course, just a rebranding of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. And this superficial change reflects the nature of Sunak’s decisions as purely cosmetic changes.
Policy and underinvestment are preventing real action
The surge in energy bills has fuelled a cost-of-living crisis for many in the UK. It’s also been crucial in motivating a series of public-sector strikes by nurses, ambulance drivers, train workers, and others.
Whilst creating the new departments, Sunak sought to blame the Russian invasion of Ukraine for the prices. He said that events over the past year showed the danger “when we’re reliant on imported energy from hostile countries”. Then, he went on to claim the new Department for Energy Security and Net Zero will “reduce people’s energy bills”.
However, as the Canary reported on 7 February, wholesale gas prices have steadily dropped since August 2022. Current prices result from the increase in the energy price guarantee (EPG), which is a government-set limit on what companies can charge customers for each unit of energy used. The EPG is set to rise again in April, amid soaring energy company profits.
Doug Parr, Greenpeace UK’s director of policy, said the new department would prove as “helpful as rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic”. He then went on point out that:
It’s government policy and underinvestment that is holding back real action on the climate and energy crises, not the departments or ministers in place.
The Department for Energy Security and Net Zero will be headed by Grant Shapps, who was formerly business and energy secretary. Shapps’ old business department is being merged with the international trade ministry to form the Department for Business and Trade.
Sunak has installed notorious social regressive Kemi Badenoch at its head. Unfortunately, the new brief hasn’t taken away Badenoch’s responsibilities as minister for Women and Equalities.
Sunak also launched a new Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, switching former culture secretary Michelle Donelan into that role. The PM has previously spoken of his mission to drive scientific discovery and turn Britain into a new Silicon Valley. But scientific lobby groups said the government must first prioritise restoring UK membership of the European Union’s Horizon programme for joint research, which ended with Brexit.
With Donelan leaving her role as culture secretary, Sunak promoted Lucy Frazer to lead the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Frazer previously made headlines for making a tasteless remark about enslaving people from Scotland in 2015.
One particularly dire appointment is that of Lee Anderson as deputy chairman of the Conservative Party. Anderson has a history of offensive remarks, including attacks on people using food banks, and on the England football team for taking the knee before games in a show of anti-racism.
Many people have seen through the ongoing game of charades that is cabinet appointments. One solar panel company highlighted how departments are rarely led by people with expertise in the field:
Was there really nobody with a science, engineering or tech background available to head up the department for science, innovation and technology?
— Leeds Solar (@LeedsSolar) February 7, 2023
Meanwhile, a renewables expert at the University of Reading pointed out that the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero has a “distinct lack” of focus on renewable resources:
There's a distinct lack of renewable energy or energy efficiency bodies feeding into the new Department for Energy Security & Net Zero.
Which of course are the industries that can actually help deliver lower bills. pic.twitter.com/1QeK9sJwRk
— Dan Fernbank 💙 (@UoREnergyDan) February 7, 2023
Meanwhile, reporter Lewis Goodall highlighted the fact that the new departments are essentially similar to previous government departments that were abolished:
Dept for Science, Innovation and Technology/ Dept for Innovation, Universities and Skills/ or Dept for Business, innovation and Skills.
Department for Culture, Media and Sport existed without the Digital bit until a few years ago but is now reverting.
— Lewis Goodall (@lewis_goodall) February 7, 2023
Against this backdrop, Parr’s comment that Sunak’s reshuffle is little more than rearranging deck chairs on a sinking ship rings true. With the local elections coming up in May, and Tory popularity continuing to nosedive, Sunak’s new departments seem like an attempt to paint over the cracks while he fluffs his own ego. As millions of people across the UK struggle with daily survival, and with climate breakdown continuing to loom over all of us, a lick of paint simply isn’t enough.
Featured image via Number 10/Flickr
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse
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