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Government Announces Department Changes

On 7 February, the government announced an unanticipated shake up of departments.

On 7 February, the government announced an unanticipated restructuring of departments and small ministerial reshuffle. Amongst the changes, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport had ‘digital’ removed from its title and welcomed a new secretary of state, Lucy Frazer MP. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) was split into three new departments: the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ), the Department for Business and Trade (DBT), and the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT). The Department for International Trade was also merged with the new business department.

DSIT Takes Over IP

DSIT’s new ministerial team is made up of Michelle Donelan MP, who was moved from culture to become the new secretary of state; the minister responsible for intellectual property, George Freeman MP, who was moved from BEIS to become a minister of state; and Paul Scully MP, who had responsibility for the progress of the Online Safety Bill at DCMS, moves over to DSIT to become parliamentary under secretary of state.

DSIT’s responsibilities include oversight of the Intellectual Property Office, as well as research and development and strengthening UK scientific collaboration with international partners. DSIT will also be responsible for introducing the long-awaited Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer Bill to parliament and will oversee the remaining legislative stages of the Online Safety Bill. The department will also be responsible for AI and data regulation.

Culture Relegated

Whilst political commentators have previously highlighted digital’s uncomfortable fit in the culture department, with the ground-breaking digital side of DCMS now elsewhere, it suggests a worrying relegation in the government’s priorities for the department. With a new secretary of state and a new permanent secretary (Sarah Healey left DCMS to become permanent secretary at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities), DCMS will now navigate a smaller list of responsibilities and will take forward the anticipated changes to the regulation of gambling, football and a thinned-out Media Bill.

The disruption caused by the changes is likely to be significant. Department restructuring can take a long time to fully complete and can create ill will between two merging departments. Initial reports have painted a chaotic picture, with officials uncertain as to where their ministers are based, who they now report to on certain matters, and even when they will receive new department email addresses. It also does not bode well for the long list of legislation promised in last year’s Queen’s Speech that is yet to make much progress through Parliament. Whilst the prime minister is keen to improve innovation and often referred to it during his leadership campaign in 2022, many have questioned why the changes were made so close to the next general election and whether they will do much to help the government meet its five priorities for 2023.

Keep an eye on our new website’s policy section for further Westminster updates.