Two perm secs for merged Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Martin Donnelly and Alex Chisholm leading the newly-created department as joint permanent secretaries

By Matt Foster

27 Jul 2016

The new Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is being led by two permanent secretaries for the time being, it has emerged.

DBEIS was formed earlier this month when new prime minister Theresa May ordered the merger of the Department for Energy and Climate Change with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

Before the merger, each department was led by a dedicated perm sec, with the recently-appointed Alex Chisholm overseeing DECC and Martin Donnelly serving as BIS's top official since 2010.

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An update to DBEIS's website confirms that both Chisholm and Donnelly are staying on as joint permanent secretaries in the new organisation.

However, a government spokesperson would not be drawn on whether this leadership structure represented a temporary or longer-term arrangement .

"An immediate step was taken when the formation of BEIS was announced, to ask the permanent secretaries of the former DECC and former BIS to assume the leadership of the new department and that remains the case," the DBEIS spokesperson told CSW.

They added: "The appointment of permanent secretaries is a matter for the cabinet secretary and secretaries of state."

A series of parliamentary statements published last week sheds more light on the work and structure of the new department, which brings together responsibility for business, industrial strategy, science, energy and climate change policy under one organisation.

DBEIS minister Margot James confirmed that all civil servants previously working for the energy department would be moving to the new organisation, with "all of its functions" being incorporated in DBEIS. But she said the departments' full portfolio of policy responsibilities, as well as its ministerial allocations, was "being agreed and will be announced in due course". 

The merger of the departments will also prompt a rethink of their budgets for this rest of the parliament, with their separate plans only agreed with the Treasury at last year's government-wide Spending Review.

James told MPs that officials in the department were currently working through the budgetary implications of the merger, and said spending totals would be "formally agreed and approved by parliament" in early 2017.

For the time being, the organisation also remains split over two sites – BIS's old HQ at Victoria Street, and the former DECC office on Whitehall Place.

A DBEIS spokesperson told CSW that the department intended "to bring all teams from 3 Whitehall Place into 1 Victoria Street following the creation of the new department".

They added: "Under the leadership of permanent secretaries Martin Donnelly and Alex Chisholm, we are engaging with staff across both sites about these moves."

Amid criticism from environmental groups and MPs that the abolition of DECC marks a downgrading of climate change policy, a note published by the Cabinet Office said the new organisation would be "best placed to deliver the significant new investment and innovation needed to support the UK’s future energy policy​".

"Furthermore, it will create a single department committed to ensuring that this investment and innovation fully utilises the UK science base and translates into supply chain benefits and opportunities in the UK."

It added: "One of the main challenges in tackling climate change is to try to reduce carbon emissions without jeopardising economic growth. This merger will enable a whole economy approach to delivering our climate change ambitions, effectively balancing the priorities of growth and carbon reduction."

The Cabinet Office said the new organisation would also "work closely" with the new Department for Exiting the European Union and the Department for International trade "on market access including in overseas energy markets, and attracting overseas investment".

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