Public Services

Hancock's half hour

Jessica Figueras Published 11 January 2018

It wasn’t an easy ministerial reshuffle for Theresa May. But, as Jessica Figueras explains, it did offer some clues as to where the government’s priorities lie – and who will be implementing them


On the face of it, this week's cabinet reshuffle seems to be notable mainly as confirmation that Theresa May is a serial bodger.


This confirmed that government focus has shifted from digital government to industrial strategy, and influence from Cabinet Office to DCMS. So digital champion Matt Hancock's promotion to Culture Secretary is good news for the tech industry. His junior digital minister, Margot James, has a small business background - let's see if that colours her approach to universal broadband.

New Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington will be tied up by No. 10 and Brexit, so whichever junior minister gets the digital government brief will just have to run with it. It seems likely to be Chloe Smith - an ex-Deloitte consultant with previous Efficiency and Reform experience at Cabinet Office. Caroline Nokes' paltry 7 months in the role says a lot about priorities. Still, it's not a bad move to make Nokes Immigration Minister; that seven months of digital training will come in handy as she gets to grips with a politicised brief that's impossible to deliver unless Home Office digital is firing on all cylinders.


The unlikely scenario of a strengthened Jeremy Hunt has emerged, against May's wishes and extraordinary given deafening NHS crisis headlines. DoH's rebranding as the Department for Health and Social Care has been dismissed as window-dressing, but it's significant that DHSC will now lead on the social care green paper rather than the PM-controlled Cabinet Office. After all, it was May's 'dementia tax' wot lost the election. Don't write Hunt or his policies off just yet.


Fellow survivor Chris Grayling remains at transport; his new rail strategy announced in November, including reforms to franchising and continued erosion of the track/trains split, is worth watching. Jo Johnson's new brief combines Transport with Minister for London for the first time; not a positive development for those anticipating more focus on Northern transport. As a London Tory MP in a tough local election year, Johnson will be charged with smoothing disgruntlement over Grayling's refusal to hand London commuter rail to TfL.


Johnson and Justine Greening's departures were some of the most dramatic, in stories involving colourful characters from the political margins, Toby Young and ex-May aide Nick Timothy. New Education Secretary Damian Hinds looks more to the May/Timothy mould, being more interested in faith schools than social mobility. Schools will be anxious to see whether he fights as hard for funding as Greening did.

Similarly, Universities will be hoping that new minister Sam Gyimah is more willing to defend them against the fierce criticism the sector has received of late. Alas, we will never know what role the Young controversialist might have played, as powerful new university regulator The Office for Students begins operations in April without him.

Jessica Figueras


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