» Friday, October 3, 2008

Reshuffle/National Economic Council

The Prime Minister s Spokesman (PMS) began by telling the assembled journalists that there were two press notices being issued today. The first was the list of Cabinet members and the second was on the creation of the new National Economic Council (NEC) and its membership. The Prime Minister would give a press conference at 4.15pm, which would be an opportunity to ask some wider questions.

The reshuffle was about strengthening the capacity of the Government to deal with the global economic challenges, which we were currently facing. We were creating a new Department of Energy and Climate Change, taking energy from BERR and climate change from DEFRA. Ed Miliband would be the new Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Peter Mandelson would be the new Secretary of State for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and Hilary Benn would remain as the Secretary of State at what was the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

The other changes of significance were John Hutton becoming the new Secretary of State for Defence and Geoff Hoon becoming the Secretary of State for Transport. The following people had also been given new roles, all as Ministers attending Cabinet; Nick Brown as Chief Whip; Liam Byrne as Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster; Margaret Beckett as Minister of State for Housing, and Tony McNulty as Minister of State for Employment. Des Browne, Ruth Kelly and Baroness Ashton had all stepped down from Cabinet. Baroness Ashton would be the Government s recommendation to fill the vacancy at the European Commission that had been created by the Peter Mandelson appointment.

The membership of the NEC was on page two of the press notice. It was made up of the main Secretaries of State who dealt with economic issues, including the Foreign Secretary, recognising the important role he played in Government and the global nature of the economic challenges we faced.

One of the features of this reshuffle was that we were bringing in people with considerable experience and expertise into some of the key junior Minister positions in the NEC. The Minister of Housing was Margaret Beckett; the Minister for Science was Lord Drayson, who was returning to Government; the Minister for the City was Paul Myners; the Minister for Economic Competitiveness and Small Businesses was Baroness Vadera and the Minister for Communications, Technology and Broadcasting was, the soon the be ennobled, Stephen Carter.

Asked where Caroline Flint was going, the PMS said that Caroline Flint was now the Minister for Europe.

Asked if Sir John Bond was going to be appointed a role, the PMS said that we were also announcing Business Ambassadors, as set out in the press notice.

Asked if the NEC could be described as an economic COBRA, the PMS said that that was one way of describing it. It would meet frequently, probably around twice a week initially.

Asked if it would meet if there was an economic crisis, the PMS said that it was clearly quite a challenging period at the moment, so we would keep the frequency of meetings under review.

Asked if Cabinet numbers had expanded, the PMS said that there were a number of people who previously attended all Cabinet meetings, but who would now only attend when their particular portfolio was being discussed.

Asked if it was recognised that the roles of Secretary of State for Defence and the Secretary of State Scotland needed a full time Minister given that the roles had now been split up, the PMS said that he would not necessarily characterise it like that. Des Browne was a very hard working Minister but this reshuffle was an opportunity to return to the situation we had previously. There would be an exchange of letters between the Prime Minister and Des Browne that would be released later today.

Put that Nick Brown was not a member of the Cabinet but that Geoff Hoon had been, the PMS said that this was a recognition of the fact that we needed to strengthen the economic capacity of the Cabinet.

Asked about junior Ministerial posts, the PMS said that there would be other junior announcements but the most significant junior announcements were the appointments to the NEC, which were set out in the press notice.

Asked if David Yelland would be given a role, the PMS said that David Yelland had absolutely no role, and had not been appointed to Downing Street as Director of Communications or in any other capacity.

Asked how the NEC was different to standard Cabinet, the PMS said that it was different because there would be a beefed-up officials working group supporting this, so it would have much more support than a traditional Cabinet Committee would have. It would include all of the main Ministers dealing with economic issues, would be chaired by the Prime Minister and would meet regularly.

Asked if more Ministerial positions would be announced today, the PMS said that we hoped to be able to get the rest of the Ministerial names out as soon as we could.

Asked what job Des Browne had been offered before he stepped down, the PMS said that he was not going go into any discussions that the Prime Minister may or may not have had with his former Cabinet colleagues.

Asked if Stephen Carter s ennoblement and movement out of No 10 implied that he had been so successful in his job reconfiguring No 10 that he was no longer needed or that he didn t succeed, the PMS said it was a recognition of the fact that Stephen Carter was a man of enormous experience and ability. He had a lot of experience in this area and was being promoted and given an important job. The importance of his job was recognised by the fact that he was a member of this key Cabinet Committee.

Asked if Stephen Carter would be taking a pay cut, the PMS said that he did not have the details of his pay and conditions.

Asked who would replace Stephen Carter, the PMS said that, as part of the changes we were making today, we had Liam Byrne appointed into the Cabinet Office and he would work very closely with Tom Watson in ensuring political coordination of the centre of Government. There may be further announcements made in due course, but we were not announcing anybody new in Downing Street today.

Asked why the Prime Minister had brought Peter Mandelson back to Government, the PMS said that Peter Mandelson was somebody who had a huge amount of experience at dealing with trade and business matters, gained particularly at the European Commission. He was generally regarded to have done a good job as European Commissioner; he mastered what was a very complex brief. The Prime Minister asked Mr Mandelson to return to the UK and use his talents, ability and expertise to make a contribution to the Government at this time of considerable economic challenge.

Put that there had been a terrible amount of bad blood and factionalism created by Peter Mandelson, the PMS said that the Prime Minister and Peter Mandelson had been in regular contact in recent months, as you would expect, as Peter Mandelson was our European Commissioner. This was an opportunity for the Prime Minister to bring a wide pool of talent into the Government.

Asked if Lord Myners would be standing down from any of his other roles, the PMS said yes. Paul Myners was someone who had a huge amount of experience and expertise in dealing with matters relating to the city. He was the author of the Myners report, published a few years ago, which looked at the strengthening of shareholders and Government s arrangements. He would support the Chancellor in driving forward the Government s work on financial matters.

Asked about merging the Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland jobs, the PMS said that the overriding priority in this reshuffle was to take action in order to strengthen the economic capacity of the Government.

Asked where the credit crunch came in the list of the biggest challenges facing the country including terrorism and climate change, the PMS said that climate change and terrorism were obviously also big challenges, but anybody who had been half awake in recent weeks would have noticed that we faced some quite considerable economic challenges.

Asked who would become the new Chief Political Spokesman, the PMS said that it would be Justin Forsyth. Justin was moving over to the communications side and for the time being would be the person dealing with political media.

Asked to confirm what Justin Forsyth s predecessor would be doing, the PMS replied that Damian McBride would be working in Downing Street in a more strategic role. For example, he would be working with Liam Byrne in order to help coordinate the liaison between the work of the Cabinet Office and No 10.

original source.

Briefing took place at 16:45 | Search for related news

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