Civil service reform brief changes hands again as Philp named Cabinet Office minister

Edward Argar becomes chief Treasury secretary as Kwasi Kwarteng exits as chancellor
New Cabinet Office minister Chris Philp. Photo: PA Images/Alamy Stock Photo

Chris Philp has been named Cabinet Office minister in an exchange of roles with Edward Argar, putting him in charge of civil service reform.

Philp was ousted from his role as chief Treasury secretary last week when the prime minister sacked chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng. Argar joined the Treasury along with new chancellor Jeremy Hunt, who was brought in to help stabilise the economy in the wake of last month’s failed mini-budget.

The switch has been interpreted as a demotion for Philp.

Philp, who also takes on the title of paymaster general, will oversee delivery of the government's efficiency programme, which is likely to entail significant cutbacks in the wake of the mini-budget and rising inflation.

His brief also includes Civil Service HR; oversight of the Crown Commercial Service; the Government Property Agency; the Government Digital Service; the Government Communications Service; and the Places for Growth strategy to grow the civil service's footprint outside London.

The move came ahead of Hunt’s statement this morning announcing a U-turn on most of the tax-cutting measures Kwarteng announced in September.

Philp becomes the fourth Cabinet Office minister in just over a year, succeeding Michael Ellis, who took over from Steve Barclay when the latter was briefly promoted to health secretary amid a wave of resignations this summer that ultimately toppled Boris Johnson as prime minister. Before that came Michael Gove, who set out the Declaration on Government Reform last year before being named levelling up secretary in September 2021.

However, the civil service reform brief has not always stayed with the Cabinet Office minister, becoming the responsibility of then-government efficiency minister Jacob Rees-Mogg in February 2020. Rees-Mogg, who pushed for greater office attendance and stronger curbs on flexi-time, was appointed business secretary last month.

Philp held a number of ministerial roles before being named chief Treasury secretary in Liz Truss’s September reshuffle. Starting with a two-month stint as a junior justice minister in September 2019, he was quickly moved to the then-Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government before a joint post at the Home Office and MoJ in February 2020.

He was appointed a minister in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport in September 2021, before returning to the backbenches this summer.

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