Eric Pickles retained his position as communities secretary, but the reshuffle nevertheless has repercussions for local government.
Pickles stays but Lansley goes
Housing minister Grant Shapps was promoted to Conservative party chairman, to be replaced by Mark Prisk. Housing is crucial to underpinning government’s economic growth ambitions – as one commentator put it, rather than promoting Shapps the PM might have considered elevating his role to the cabinet. From controversy around ‘exporting’ social housing tenants out of borough to dwindling house-building figures, this will continue to be a high-profile brief, and one on which David Cameron is keeping a watchful eye.
With Eric Pickles and George Osborne remaining in post, the debate about use of greenfield will continue. The merits and disadvantages of new towns verses expansion of existing places should be properly explored in a mature debate.
The discussions need to be considered in the context of functioning economic areas, travel to work zones and the need for housing to support economic centres – very often across local authority boundaries and underpinned by council collaboration. The government’s tightening grip on the extent of business rate pooling that will be permitted (LGCplus.com/5045427.article) risks hindering exactly this kind of necessary joint working.
With Mr Pickles and other DCLG ministers remaining in place, the rhetoric is unlikely to change. There is little hope of an end in sight to pronouncements such as the repeated claims that councils can continue providing services if they would only spend their reserves and adopt more shared services – despite the best efforts of Merrick Cockell (who recently warned that in doing so councils would run out of reserves in five years, leaving them unable to invest in job-creating and economy boosting infrastructure: LGCplus.com/5048887.article)
Across at Richmond House, Andrew Lansley lost the health brief, as was widely tipped. He was replaced by former culture secretary Jeremy Hunt. Among Lansley’s crimes was losing the confidence of the medical profession. Mr Hunt’s efforts to re-engage won’t be helped by critics efforts to link him with comments made by Daniel Hannan, who reportedly told US TV in 2009 that the NHS was a “60-year-old mistake”.
The impact of the change will take a few days to emerge. Policy is well progressed but changing personnel will inevitably cause some delays to reforms. Mr Hunt’s arrival could also signal a whole-sale departmental clear-out.
In terms of the future funding of adult social care, much rides on the social care white paper. Paul Burstow, the care minister who this year denied that there was a crisis in care funding (LGCplus.com/5040340.article), has already replaced by Lib Dem Norman Lamb. Recent signs suggest that he has thrown his weight behind finding a way to fund the key Dilnot proposals (LGCplus.com/5048522.article). Much rides on social care white paper.
Meanwhile, Michael Gove remains education secretary and Iain Duncan Smith stays at DWP, providing continuity in the other key areas of reform for local government (despite employment minister Chris Grayling’s promotion to justice secretary).