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Reshuffle, what reshuffle?

Rupert Lewis

10 January 2018

©Number 10

The Prime Minster ended 2017 on a high. The first phase of the Brexit negotiations are seemingly complete, and the fact she was still occupying Number 10 was deemed an incredible success.

With that new found power she began her reshuffle with whispers of promoting new talent, refreshing her cabinet and stamping her footprint on government.

However, behind the political bluster her impossible position remains. She called an election, lost the Conservative’s majority and is delivering a Brexit policy for which there is no clear majority in Parliament.

For business, reshuffles are always a cause for concern and for the energy sector they have often been particularly troubling.

Since the 2010 general election, through the guises of DECC or BEIS there have been four Secretary of States* and nine Energy Ministers**. It’s not the definition of stability.

Thankfully, for once, there weren’t any changes for the nuclear sector despite the political commentators asserting Greg Clark was destined to be sacked, demoted or at the very least moved sideways.

After being holed up in Number 10 with Jeremy Hunt for a couple of hours, both left with the same jobs.

A relief for business who have valued Greg Clark’s calm determination and ablity to understand and appreciate the business communities Brexit anxiety. Although the Sunday Times, Political Editor, Tim Shipman clearly disagrees and vehemently ranted as a lone voice on Twitter that “he’s done nothing in a key brief” and “is useless and utterly incapable of making a decision”.

This seems very harsh and many journalists and politicians immediately leapt to his defence.

There do however remain a number of decisions which need to be taken by his Department for the nuclear industry, including a consultation on the future of geological disposal, a conclusive way forward on small modular reactors, and a policy position on plutonium disposition.

Government support is also required to deliver the Nuclear Sector Deal, although there admittedly remains some work for industry to do. Strong backing from Whitehall will be required to deliver a contract for difference for Wylfa Newydd and see through the sale of NuGen – two key objectives which will help secure the future of the industry.

That list is quite exhaustive but Clark understands the brief and has been very supportive of nuclear energy in the past and this could be the year that all or at least some of the above happens.

The Minister with nuclear energy in his brief was Richard Harrington and with Claire Perry promoted to attending cabinet, it was rumoured he may be pushed aside.

Luckily, he wasn’t moved and we avoided our tenth Energy Minister in eight years. Sitting on the Nuclear Industry Council, Harrington has been a keen supporter of the industry and understands its role in the energy mix today and into the future.

At the NIA’s annual conference in December he said the industry is well placed to deliver on the government’s Industrial Strategy Grand Challenges – “providing clean, reliable energy while growing the economy.”

Another key part of his brief will be managing the UK’s withdrawal from the Euratom Treaty. This is a massively important task and only if it’s done properly can the UK maintain its position at the forefront of a globally competitive sector. No deal isn’t an option…

The reshuffle was billed as a major overhaul of personnel and objectives within government. Thankfully nothing has really changed and with Clark and Harrington still in place, industry can hopefully look forward to real progress on key policy areas which might otherwise have piled up in the BEIS in-tray.

 

*Chris Huhne, Sir Ed Davey MP, Amber Rudd MP, Greg Clark MP

**Charles Hendry, John Hayes MP, Sir Michael Fallon MP, Matthew Hancock MP, Andrea Leadsom MP, Baroness Verma, Baroness Neville-Rolfe, Jesse Norman MP, Richard Harrington

 

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