David Cameron’s second term looks set to be one of the most aggressive government programmes in recent history
The upshot of the reshuffle might be, as local government expert Tony Travers puts it, “a short period of peace between DCLG and its partners”.
But given that David Cameron’s second term looks set to be dominated by a series of rows in one of the most aggressive government programmes in recent history - an in/out EU referendum, the Snoopers’ Charter, severe public spending cuts, repealing the Human Rights Act, devo-max for Scotland - any peace will do.
Greg Clark’s elevation to Communities and Local Government secretary has certainly fuelled hopes that the department will be more understanding of local authorities’ problems in an age of public spending cuts.
Clark is a popular choice as he has long been an advocate of devolving powers to city regions and sub-national governments, so expect more city deals along the lines of the one Sheffield signed late last year. This gave the steel city far more influence over housing, working with the Homes & Communities Agency on a joint asset board to identify land for sale and gaining more influence over where to build residences.
As part of central government, money for housing and schemes not covered by the National Infrastructure Plan can’t hope to survive when areas like the NHS and education are viewed as priorities.
Devolving a chunk of funding down to regions will at least mean there is a chance some of it will be spent on capital projects. Travers’ concern that this will not be an extensive truce is partly driven by the realities of our age: however it is divvied up, public money is going to be tight.
But not all devolution is popular: Graham Brady, the Altrincham and Sale West MP who chairs the Tories’ powerful 1922 Committee, opposes George Osborne’s idea of a Manchester mayor, as complaints mount that this will simply add another layer ofbureaucracy on an already fairly autonomous city region.
But, on the whole, this is an appointment that indicates a shift in attitude that should leave contractors salivating over the prospect of regional work.
More worrying for small and medium-sized contractors and consultants is a threat hanging over their Whitehall champion, the business department. If the government is to save billions, it will need to look at axing or merging a few departments – with Sajid Javid, a former investment banker who knows all about ‘efficiencies’, now in charge, the department must be under threat.
Mark Leftly is political correspondent at The Independent on Sunday