Theresa May yesterday announced her new cabinet and – contrary to all expectations – there have been some radical changes. Our policy adviser Ben Brown reviews the new government and argues innovation and infrastructure must remain at the heart of its new industrial strategy.

With just four cabinet members remaining in their job, yesterday’s changes by the new Prime Minister Theresa May were surprisingly bold. The largest change is the creation of a new department, bringing together the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) and Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) into a new Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (while losing trade and skills along the way). The upshot is a department that appears to be much more focused on direct intervention in the private sector, as opposed to the more free market approach of Cameron’s government.

This in itself might be positive, but it raises questions about what that industrial strategy will include. Dropping ‘innovation’ from the department’s title is a concern; especially as our economy depends upon the application of new knowledge and creativity, now more than ever. Osborne’s ‘March of the makers’ never quite materialised, but this must be a cornerstone of the new strategy.

By incorporating energy into business, the government has given strong indications that it intends to focus on the major infrastructure which underpins economic growth, alongside the Department for Transport. The UK needs better-designed modern national infrastructure, and ensuring that this is delivered across the whole country must continue to be a priority. The closure of DECC puts the government's focus on environmental sustainability into question, but this must remain paramount.

The new department will be led by Greg Clark. Clark effectively swaps jobs with Sajid Javid who now becomes the new Communities Secretary. Both appointments are positive. Greg Clark is an experienced and knowledgeable minister who understands the importance of good design to local growth. Sajid Javid at DCLG should also be good news, as he understands locally-led growth and the opportunities for reform within the planning system, but he’ll need to ensure that communities remain empowered (à la David Cameron’s old ‘Big Society’), not just for economic growth.

Skills and higher education is now the responsibility of the Department for Education, while trade and exports gets its own department, led by Liam Fox. Bringing skills and education together is a logical move, and will enable the new secretary of state, Justine Greening, to look at design skills across the piece. 

The new culture secretary is Karen Bradley, who will be tasked with picking up the creative industries strategy. Both ministers at the Cabinet Office have been changed, with Ben Gummer and Patrick McLoughlin picking up responsibilities such as public service transformation and the third sector. While both will want to make their mark, successful initiatives such as Policy Lab must not get lost. 

May’s government has a lot on its plate in the coming months, but it is important that innovation and infrastructure does not get lost in the melee, and that the focus remains on designing a better Britain for everyone. Strategic design is key to positive social change, and Design Council will continue to ensure the government has the advice and tools it needs to do its job.

We can look forward to more details of ministerial appointments and departmental responsibilities next week.

Update 20 July 2016:

Further rounds of ministerial appointments were made at the weekend, and the new government is now in place (minus a few minor appointments, such as Parliamentary Private Secretaries).

The team at BEIS looks positive, with a good mix of expertise in creative industries and social enterprise in Jesse Norman and Nick Hurd and a welcome promotion for Baroness Neville-Rolfe, who has been a good advocate for design.  Jo Johnson remains minister for universities and science, and we hope he will retain the innovation brief. 

The government has confirmed that responsibility for charities and social enterprise will move to DCMS, along with ministers Matthew Hancock and Rob Wilson.  This is a strange move, and there are concerns within the third sector that this represents a downgrade, or a misunderstanding of what third sector policy is for.  On the other hand, there are opportunities to align aspects of DCMS’s work to the broader social agenda.

Other appointments include Gavin Barwell, as Minister for Housing and Planning, and Robert Halfon, as Minister for Apprentices and Skills. 

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