Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Cameron’s reshuffle says ‘let’s get Britain building’

According to today's papers, Mr Cameron's first Government reshuffle has shored up his right wing, brought in new talent from the 2010 intake and shaken up departments that need a new policy or communications drive; notably Health, Justice, and Transport.

It also paves the way for a stronger focus on growth.  Cameron has strengthened the Tory influence in Vince Cable’s Business Department with the appointment of Michael Fallon and George Osborne’s former adviser, Matt Hancock.   Fallon is likely to take the construction remit within the Department.

Owen Paterson’s elevation to Environment has dismayed green campaigners who fear it will lead to a relaxation of environmental regulations. Cameron has also appointed Paul Deighton, the CEO of LOCOG, as Treasury minister with responsibility for economic delivery and strategic infrastructure and announced the establishment of a Cabinet Committee to chase progress on deregulation, infrastructure, planning and housing.

Most notably, Cameron has cleared out Justine Greening and Teresa Villiers from the Department for Transport.  Greening and Villiers’ constituency interests not only ruled out a third runway, but would have made it difficult for them to sell a new Thames Estuary airport to the voters of Kent - if the Government plump for a more radical aviation policy.  The arrival of Patrick McLoughlin paves the way for a Government U-turn on aviation, and possibly HS2.

The Lib Dem changes have been more restrained, although the return of David Laws in education with a wider roving brief at the Cabinet Office is another signal that both sides of the Coalition recognise the need to support growth.

A new team at CLG

Outside the top spots of the cabinet, the reshuffle has been extensive - Eric Pickles inherits a completely new team at CLG.

The energetic Grant Shapps is promoted to Conservative Party Chairman and replaced as Housing Minister by the more analytical Mark Prisk.  Shapps is an effective media performer with an impressive record as a ministerial reformer having implemented the New Home Bonus and re-introduced the Right to Buy.  But critics point out that he was more interested in the advice of his spin doctor than his civil servant policy advisers.  Prisk, a former Chartered Surveyor and Construction Minister, has an unenviable in-tray with the lack of mortgage availability and the regulatory costs and on-going uncertainty of planning at the top.

The architect of the planning reforms, Greg Clark, is moved to Treasury where he will retain responsibility for cities.  He is replaced by Nicholas Boles, the MP for Grantham and Stamford, and founder of the Government’s favourite think tank, Policy Exchange.  Policy wonk Boles is the ideal candidate to drive visionary policies such as new garden cities, to which both Cameron and Clegg are converts.

Andrew Stunell is replaced by Don Foster to give the Lib Dems a greater media and public profile in this policy area and to help reassure the party’s local government base, who are growing increasingly anxious about the impact of the Coalition on their local electoral prospects.

Bob Neill’s replacement will be announced later today.

The overwhelming message of this reshuffle is that the Government is focused on delivering growth and that housing and infrastructure is now central to their strategy.

Tomorrow, the Government will announce the content of a new economic development Bill which they hope to fast-track into law by October.  It will offer further planning de-regulation (with changes to planning appeals and judicial reviews) as well as more Government support for infrastructure and house-building.

It is an opportune time for property companies to engage Government.

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