Activists and policy pundits, far from a strong and stable government, warn that high turnover in top ministerial posts is preventing them from tackling the country’s burning problems.
Charities and campaigners have criticized Boris Johnson’s government for the “steady brain drain” of ministers in key areas of government, with some departments preparing to welcome their 11th or 12th minister in 12 years.
According to a variety of organizations Mazic News spoke to, the high turnover of top politicians due to regular reshuffles, layoffs and resignations is preventing Whitehall from addressing some of the country’s burning issues.
Mazic News has been building a database of ministerial posts since the May 2010 general election to find out which sectors of government are most affected by staff turnover.
The housing, transport, local government and environment sectors are among the hardest hit sectors, with concerns about policy implementation and the alignment agenda not being prioritized due to a lack of continuity.
Shelter said the government must proceed with addressing the longstanding housing crisis rather than “constantly changing who’s in charge”.
On Thursday (7 July) Marcus Jones became the 12th Secretary of State for Housing in as many years after Stuart Andrew left office. He was one of dozens of ministers who resigned in the wake of the Chris Pincher scandal.
This ministerial post — part of the Department for Leveling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) — has seen the highest turnover of any government department, according to an analysis by Mazic News. The analysis includes only ministers of state and not the parliamentary undersecretaries, the lowest level of government ministers
But not only the housing industry has to struggle with a lack of consistency in the top jobs.
Mazic News analysis shows that the Minister for Local Government, Faith and Communities, also covered by the DLUHC, has also changed 11 times in 12 years.
Transport and the environment have also faced similar problems, with the Minister for Energy, Clean Growth and Climate Change and the Minister of State for Transport each changing 11 times in 12 years.
Additional analysis by Mazic News found that ministerial turnover was worse during Boris Johnson’s tenure.
Of the 234 ministers included in the analysis (including the now vacant seats), 89 of the changes took place during Johnson’s administration. This does not include ministers who lost their role when he formed his first cabinet, only changes thereafter.
The analysis covered the period from May 2010 to July 2022, with 38% of ministerial changes occurring during Johnson’s tenure. However, he was only in office 24% of that time
The housing shortage
Housing activists across the country have criticized the lack of government stability in their sector.
Centrepoint, the youth homelessness charity, said the “steady drain” of foreign and junior ministers has done little to stop the 120,000 young people in the UK affected by homelessness from feeling like a political afterthought.
It is now unclear what will happen to some of the priorities of the new housing secretary’s predecessor, the charity added.
While influential secretaries of state, such as health and social care or promotion ministers, are the most senior ministers in each ministry, middle-level ministers of state are often tasked with delivering specific priority areas, such as vaccines or housing.
Polly Neate, chief executive of housing organization Shelter, spoke of her frustration at the “extraordinarily high turnover” of housing ministers and warned that despite recent moves to protect tenants’ rights and build more social housing, momentum could be lost on the policy.
Jonathan Webb, senior research fellow and housing expert at the think tank Institute for Public Policy Research North (IPPR North), echoed the concern, adding that the ministerial change could create problems in developing strategy and getting work done.
“Every time the minister comes, you sit back”
Mr Webb said: “The question is where do these agendas go if you don’t have stability? They don’t tend to get lost entirely, but they do change. And when you have that transition, you lose that expertise too.
“Even if ministers are not experts when they step into a role, they can usually build up expertise quite quickly thanks to support from the civil service. But every time a minister comes, you reset that.”
Norman Baker, a former Parliamentary Under-Secretary (third and bottom tier, just below Ministers of State) for Transport and director of foreign affairs at Campaign for Better Transport, said constant government reshuffles mean a lack of expertise in departments.
“You don’t end up with people who know what they’re talking about,” he said.
“[Churn] is a problem and it is a particular problem in the Department of Transport because the Department is seen by Ministers as a place where you go on the way up and the way down.”
Since 2010, the Ministry for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has had seven state secretaries and eleven state ministers with energy and climate protection mandates – despite the urgency of the climate crisis.
Mike Childs, head of policy at environmental group Friends of the Earth, said it was important for ministers to have knowledge and expertise in the sector.
“While it would be better to have a minister in office for a decent tenure, it is more important to have a person at the head of the department who understands the environmental crisis we face and is committed to tackling it.” , he said.
“The solutions to the environmental challenges we face already exist – we just need the long-term political will to ensure they are implemented.”
Is Level Up in danger?
Adam Lent, executive director of the New Local think tank, added that the change in government roles could result in upgrade plans being abandoned or disrupted.
“The ever-changing and inconsistent leadership of central government makes it extremely difficult for councils to implement policies, make long-term plans and address burning issues,” he said
“This is reflected in abandoned or disrupted plans related to decentralization, business rates and now potential leveling. This has placed enormous strain and uncertainty on local authorities at a time when they have been faced with austerity measures, the Covid-19 pandemic and the cost of living crisis, among other things.”
In response to Mazic News’s analysis, a spokesman for the DLUHC said it will continue to push all of its legislation currently in parliament.
“The Secretary of State is committed to the clear vision and direction that has been set for the Department.
“This includes reforming the private rental sector, improving conditions for social housing, protecting tenants from unfair building safety bills and empowering communities across the UK.”
Number 10 was asked for an opinion.
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Mazic News has been building a database of secretaries of state and secretaries of state from all government departments since the May 2010 general election.
Parliamentary Undersecretaries of State (PUS), the youngest type of minister, are not included, unless the current position of Minister of State was held solely by a PUS at specific times.
Job titles displayed reflect the current situation. Many job titles have changed over time. Where this is the case, we have identified the ministers who handled the current letter using data from the House of Commons Library and the UK Cabinet website, including archived web pages. Sometimes there can be times when a generic minister covered all briefs across past and present multiple roles. In such cases, the generic minister is included in our timeline of role holders.
There are some job roles where it was not possible to trace a lineage back to 2010 because departments were merged or because current roles did not previously exist or their responsibilities were previously split between several other jobs. These roles have been excluded.