In the end, yesterday’s much anticipated Cabinet reshuffle came quickly and seemingly out of nowhere, taking many by surprise. Now that the dust has settled after the initial media frenzy around Dominic Raab’s apparent demotion from Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Affairs, the Prime Minister’s reshuffle has been dubbed by some as ‘cautious’. Whilst some of the most prominent Cabinet portfolios have changed holders – including one of the four Great Offices of State (Prime Minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Foreign Secretary, and Home Secretary) – no fewer than nineteen Ministers have remained in their original posts. The Prime Minister has made just enough changes so as to present a refreshed Government, shaking off and leaving behind the bulk of its current criticisms. However, one change that has received considerable attention is that of the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MCLG), following the departure of Robert Jenrick after just 25months in the job.
The appointment of Michael Gove as the new Secretary of State means that he is the sixth person to hold responsibility for housing and planning over a period of just six-and-a-half years. This change will in no way help to provide the confidence, stability, and – importantly – continuity in planning policy for which developers, investors, and Local Authorities across the country have desperately called over recent years.
With the Conservatives needing to boost their credentials as the Party of home ownership, the Government’s need to address the housing shortage, and the growing challenge of implementing their intended overhaul of the planning system (not least hindered by mounting opposition from their own backbenchers), Gove’s appointment to the role is likely to be driven in large part by his reputation as a reformer – somebody who has experience of shaking-up Government departments and of delivering change. Whether this means that the Government is either preparing to water down their restructuring of the planning system (for which the appointment of a fresh Minister would provide useful cover) or to double-down on their plans, is not yet clear. Though, the latter seems most likely. Gove’s skill at navigating departments and Parliament will undoubtedly help the Government to secure the support that they need and, ultimately, to force the changes through Parliament.
Gove’s newly added cross-government responsibility for levelling up, in line with the Prime Minister’s commitment to the north of the country, further suggests that the Government fully intends on re-energising and driving through their planning reforms, especially given the need to deliver more housing and the investment opportunity that developments would bring to a region.
No doubt Gove’s plans – and his instructions – for his time at MCLG will soon become clear, but in the meantime, we can be certain of one thing: housing has been reprioritised to the very top of the agenda.