The final changes to the make up of the Department for Communities & Local Government ministerial team have been confirmed.
Backbencher and former Brentwood BC leader Brandon Lewis (Con) and Liberal Democrat Don Foster have been appointed junior ministers under Eric Pickles.
Mr Lewis has been handed the brief for local government.
Meanwhile, Nick Boles – who has been brought in as planning minister to replace Greg Clark – has also only been appointed as a junior minister, despite Mr Clark being a minister of state. This appears to be as a consequence of former Conservative party chairman Baroness Warsi being appointed at the minister of state level as minister for faith and communities.
Baroness Hanham retains her junior ministerial position in the department.
The return of Mr Neill to the backbenches was met by dismay by some in local government.
One leading Conservative told LGC: “I’m really sad about losing Bob Neill.
“He would cut through the bullshit and get things sorted. He fixed things. He’ll be a big loss to local government.”
Brian Strutton, national secretary for public services at the GMB union, also paid tribute to Mr Neill and said his departure came at a critical moment in the reform of the Local Government Pension Scheme.
“The departure of Bob Neill is potentially very difficult. Bob had a good feel for the pension scheme and well understood that its funded nature made it very different from other public sector schemes,” Mr Strutton said. “The new minister will need to quickly pick up the reigns because we are at a crucial stage. The benefit reform has been agreed and must now be implemented but the governance and cost control is still being debated with Treasury who seem to want to shoe-horn the LGPS into the same sort of regime as the unfunded public sector schemes. This will not work and the new minister will need to show the same resolve Bob had.”
And civil service sources praised Mr Neill “and all the hard work he has done over the last two-and-a-half years in handling a very difficult brief in taking forward the LGPS and firefighters’ pension scheme reform agenda”.
“Within DCLG he’ll certainly be very sadly missed,” they said.
List of DCLG ministerial briefs
Eric Pickles - Secretary of state, overall strategic direction of the department
Mark Prisk - Minister of state, deputy to Eric Pickles; housing; local growth, cities and regeneration; high streets, town centres and markets
Sayeeda Warsi - Senior minister of state, faith and communities
Brandon Lewis (Con) - Parliamentary under-secretary of state, local government; fire and resilience; Thames Gateway; travellers; community pubs
Nick Boles (Con) - Parliamentary under-secretary of state, planning and development; local growth (supporting Mark Prisk); deregulation
Don Foster (Lib Dem) - Parliamentary under-secretary of state, localism, decentralisation and community rights; integration and race equality; building regulations; housing (supporting Mark Prisk); climate change and sustainable development
Baroness Hanham (Con) - Parliamentary under-secretary of state, departmental business in the House of Lords; troubled families (supporting Eric Pickles); productivity, procurement and value for money; European Regional Development Fund; transparency; QE2 Conference Centre
- For further reshuffle coverage, go to LGCplus.com/reshuffle