Sunak breaks up BEIS and ‘refocuses’ DCMS

Machinery of government change creates new departments for energy; business and trade; and science, innovation and technology
BEIS headquarters in Victoria Street

By Jim Dunton

07 Feb 2023

Prime minister Rishi Sunak has confirmed plans to break up the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in a machinery of government change that will create a standalone energy department and “refocus” the department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

The move comes six-and-a-half years after then-prime minister Theresa May created BEIS from the former business department and the Department for Energy and Climate Change. May’s July 2016 machinery of government change also created the Department for International Trade, which is being scrapped in today's changes.

Sunak’s reshaping of the Whitehall landscape creates four new departments: the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero; a combined Department for Business and Trade; the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology; and a “refocused” DCMS.

Secretary of state at BEIS until today, Grant Shapps will lead the energy-security department, which Downing Street said had been “tasked with securing our long-term energy supply, bringing down bills and halving inflation”.

It said the department’s creation “recognises the significant impact rising prices have had on households across the country as a result of Putin’s illegal war in Ukraine, and the need to secure more energy from domestic nuclear and renewable sources as we seize the opportunities of net zero”.

International trade secretary Kemi Badenoch takes the helm of the Department for Business and Trade. Downing Street said the new department would “support growth by backing British businesses at home and abroad, promoting investment and championing free trade”. Badenoch will also remain as president of the Board of Trade and minister for women and equalities.

Michelle Donelan, who was culture secretary until this morning, will become secretary of state at the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology. Downing Street said the new department would “drive the innovation that will deliver improved public services, create new and better-paid jobs and grow the economy”.

It said that having a single department focussed on turning scientific and technical innovations into practical, appliable solutions to current challenges would “help make sure the UK is the most innovative economy in the world”.

Downing Street gave few details of its vision for a refocused DCMS, but pointedly dropped the word “digital” from its title, reverting to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in a reversal of its 2017 rebrand.

It said the department would “recognise the importance of these industries to our economy and build on the UK’s position as a global leader in the creative arts.

Lucy Frazer, a minister of state in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, becomes culture secretary.

Downing Street said today’s machinery of government changes would “ensure the right skills and teams are focussed on the prime minister’s five promises: to halve inflation, grow the economy, reduce debt, cut waiting lists and stop the boats”.

A spokesperson for PCS, the civil service’ biggest union, said: “Rishi Sunak should be fully focussed on resolving our dispute, not rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.”

Sunak’s revisions to ministerial appointments also saw former DIT minister Greg Hands made minister without portfolio in the Cabinet Office – replacing Nadhim Zahawi, who was sacked from the cabinet at the end of last month.

Zahawi, who was also Conservative Party chairman and had previously served as education secretary and chancellor,  was found to have committed a “serious breach of the ministerial code” in relation to his tax affairs. 

Read the most recent articles written by Jim Dunton - Civil service spending on temporary staff hit £7.4bn last year

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