Richmond House welcomes new ministers
Neena Singh looks at what will be in store for new ministers as they settle into the Department of Health.
On Monday morning, Jeremy Hunt returned to Richmond House after surviving as health secretary through yet another election.
With the same Secretary of State at the helm, on first glance things may seem like business as usual. But the loss of Nicola Blackwood and David Mowat last week meant that change (of some degree) within the department was inevitable.
Private office staff have spent the last few days eagerly awaiting confirmation of who their new political masters will be. Their patience was awarded today when it was confirmed that Jackie Doyle-Price, MP for Thurrock, and Steve Brine, MP for Winchester and Chandler’s Ford and former Parliamentary Private Secretary to Jeremy Hunt, will be joining the ministerial team.
There will be a slow start for the new ministers, who will be inducted with carefully crafted ‘day one papers’ setting out the inner workings of the Department and the NHS. These papers will start with the basics from what a clinical commissioning group is through to the powers and responsibility of Simon Stevens.
Private offices have planned diaries packed with ministerial ‘teach-ins’, where key officials will talk the new faces through the big issues in their portfolio areas. As they get to grips with their new responsibilities they will want to meet with stakeholders and get up to speed with the details of what is important to the community and what their priorities should be in the coming months.
Working in Private Office during the 2015 election, it quickly became clear to me that each minister comes with their own working style and personal preferences. There are lots of questions to be answered from day one, covering absolutely everything from how often they want to attend speaking events to how they like to take their tea. The entire department will be trying to find out as much as possible, as soon as possible.
Although returning ministers Philip Dunne and Lord O’Shaughnessy will be keen to pick back up where they left off, morale will be lowered from the disappointing election result. The whole team will need to consider what can realistically be achieved in the new political climate, including the headline policies on mental health and social care that officials have been working on in advance of their probable return.
However, all is not lost - in junior ministers’ offices there is lots to be done that does not require legislation, and ministers will be kept busy with work that didn’t make it into the last red box before parliament dissolved.
Despite spending the purdah period dissecting manifesto commitments and drafting documents on how to make them a reality, officials are now learning that the manifesto is unlikely to be acted on in full. The civil service is used to change, but they did not expect it so quickly and they did not expect this result. The coming days will see ministers and civil servants alike getting to grips with the implications of the election result and what it means for the department.
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