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Warning over cost and job losses of new government departments

New prime minister Theresa May’s decision to change the boundaries of government departments has been criticised for potentially creating an increased cost and the risk of job losses.

After May formally took over from David Cameron as prime minister last week, it was announced that she was appointing David Davis in the new post of secretary for the UK’s exit from the European Union.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) also merged with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) to create the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

Responsibility for universities also transferred from BIS to the Department for Education, and Liam Fox has been appointed as the new secretary for international trade.

Think tank the Institute for Government (IfG) previously recommended that the ministry for leaving the EU initially operates out of the Cabinet Office, in order to reduce the cost of creating a new ministry.

In response to the decision, the IfG welcomed the fact that May has made her government’s focus on Brexit and developing alternative methods of trade clear.

However, it criticised the potential cost of the new departments, warning that establishing the Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills in 2007 came with an initial cost of £15m.

Julian McCrae, deputy director of the IfG, said: “The PM has clearly indicated how her government will proceed and given it the political leadership to move its agenda forward.

“However, she has created a series of distractions with other departmental changes, which only add to the burden on Whitehall. It remains to be seen whether these changes are more successful than previous attempts at shuffling around of departmental boundaries.”

Meanwhile, Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union, said: “Big changes in the Civil Service are not unusual under new governments but they are still incredibly unsettling for staff.

“We would oppose any attempt by Theresa May’s government to use this as an excuse for more cuts and closures, and we believe the Brexit vote means the Civil Service will need massive resources in the coming years.”

The PCS is seeking a meeting with the government to discuss the implications of the UK’s vote to leave the EU on Civil Service departments where there is EU funding.

It is also seeking reassurances about the position of its members who are EU nationals.

The changes to departments also mean that there is no Cabinet minister with official responsibility for fighting climate change, drawing protests from environmental campaigners.

(Image c. Stefan Rousseau from PA Wire and Press Association Images)

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