A new “super ministry” with responsibility for energy and environmental policy could be created in a radical shakeup of Whitehall departments, it was reported today.
The plans, which would see the Department for the Environment, Food and rural Affairs (Defra) assume responsibility for matters concerning energy production and use, could spell the end for the Department of Trade and Industry, which currently deals with those decisions.
The chancellor, Gordon Brown, is considering the changes as a way to reduce conflict over issues that are becoming key policy areas for the government, the Financial Times reported today.
A recent spat between the DTI and Defra over the European emissions trading scheme, which saw the DTI lobbying on behalf of business against plans for stricter limits on greenhouse gases has highlighted the problems of keeping energy and environmental policymaking separate.
According to the FT, the new ministry would be headed up by the environment secretary, David Miliband, who since assuming the role last May has seen green issues rise up the political agenda.
Mr Miliband has been urged by some in the party to oppose Mr Brown for the leadership when Tony Blair stands down as prime minister, but insiders have denied that the move is a sweetener for Mr Miliband not to stand, the FT said. It said the plans, which form part of the chancellor’s blueprint for his first 100 days as prime minister, would increase Mr Miliband’s role in the government and give him more power to attack the Conservatives on environmental issues.
Moving energy policy to Defra will reduce the DTI’s remit substantially – it is currently its second biggest area of spending – and the chancellor could decide to scrap the department entirely.
This has been a long-standing plan for the Liberal Democrats, who in 2002 said that by scrapping the DTI and slimming down other departments they could save taxpayers £4bn.
The party’s shadow trade and industry secretary, Susan Kramer, said: “After a decade in power, the government is finally waking up to the benefits of eliminating a layer of unnecessary bureaucracy by scrapping the DTI.”
She added: “It is crucial that any move reduces government interference in areas it shouldn’t be involved in rather than just reallocating red tape to different departments.”
Tony Juniper, director of the environmental group Friends of the Earth, said there could be some merit in moving energy issues to Defra.
“But the most important requirement is to make tackling climate change a central plank of every government department,” he said.
“The next prime minister must make environmental issues a priority, and ensure that the proposed new law on climate change forces successive governments to move towards a low carbon economy.”
By Hilary Osborne
10 April 2007
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