Rees-Mogg leaves civil service reform behind in move to BEIS

Nadhim Zahawi and Edward Argar will oversee public service reform after government efficiency minister's promotion
Liz Truss has appointed Jacob Rees-Mogg as business secretary. Photo: ZUMA Press, Inc./Alamy Stock Photo

Jacob Rees-Mogg’s brief but eventful stint in charge of civil service reform has ended with his appointment as business secretary in Liz Truss's reshuffle.

The freshly installed prime minister appears to have abolished the cabinet-level post of government efficiency and Brexit opportunities minister in promoting Rees-Mogg to secretary of state yesterday, when she named her new cabinet.

Nadhim Zahawi has been named chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster – the most senior minister at the Cabinet Office after the prime minister and a role that usually includes overseeing civil service reform. Rees-Mogg took on much of this responsibility in February, when then-CDL Steve Barclay took on the additional title of No.10 chief of staff.

Edward Argar – previously a junior health minister – has been named minister for the Cabinet Office, replacing Michael Ellis. He is takes over from Ellis as paymaster general.

Truss has not yet set out the precise division of labour between Zahawi and Argar, but both will have some responsibility for leading cross-government and public sector reform and efficiency.

Zahawi’s job listing on GOV.UK also notes that his responsibilities will include public sector digital and data reform.

Civil servants will be watching keenly to see what Zahawi and Argar’s priorities will be for the civil service.

Rees-Mogg was extremely vocal about his desire to see more officials spending a greater proportion of their time working from the offices – famously going as far as leaving notes on empty desks during his visits to government buildings.

He has also criticised “woke” training courses and, most recently, suggested that what he sees as overuse of flexitime arrangements “keep civil servants from the office and from doing their best work”.

Zahawi, who spent 10 months as education secretary before his brief spell as chancellor, has previously backed the drive to get civil servants working from offices more often.

In April, he told Department for Education staff they must return to pre-pandemic working patterns “immediately” – shortly after which officials were told they should be spending four days a week in the office. This was widely considered to be a politically driven move, and led to complaints that DfE morale was at an “all-time low”.

See the full rundown of Truss's reshuffle here.

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