Rishi Sunak leaving Downing Street

New science and energy security ministers created in Cabinet reshuffle

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UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has split the department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and the department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to create four new portfolios, including one for science and innovation.

Prime minister Rishi Sunak's Cabinet reshuffle has resulted in the creation of a new Department for Energy Security and Net Zero and a dedicated Department for Science, Innovation and Technology. 

The current business minister, Grant Shapps, will take on the role of minister for the new Energy Security and Net Zero department, while former culture minister Michelle Donelan has been appointed to run the department for Science, Innovation and Technology. 

Additionally, Kemi Badenoch will now lead the joint Department for Business and Trade, while Lucy Frazer has joined the Cabinet as culture secretary, which has been refocused to centre around sports and the creative arts. 

Sunak also replaced sacked Tory party chairman Nadhim Zahawi with Greg Hands, who had been operating as trade minister until today.

The government said the move was made to “ensure the right skills and teams are focused on the Prime Minister’s five promises: to halve inflation, grow the economy, reduce debt, cut waiting lists and stop the boats."

The department for Science, Innovation and Technology has been tasked with the role of driving "the innovation that will deliver improved public services, create new and better-paid jobs and grow the economy".

In its announcement, the government said: "Having a single department focussed on turning scientific and technical innovations into practical, appliable solutions to the challenges we face will help make sure the UK is the most innovative economy in the world". 

The creation of this department has also been perceived as a push towards Sunak's pledge to make the UK a "science superpower"

“I will turbocharge clinical innovation to enhance our medicines research regime, deliver better access to funding and lab space, and ensure that we have access to the very best talent available," Sunak said in August last year. 

The creation of a standalone energy department can also be traced back to one of Sunak's campaign promises. 

This department will now be tasked with "securing our long-term energy supply, bringing down bills and halving inflation", according to Downing Street.

The government presented the creation of this department as a way of recognising "the significant impact rising prices have had on households across the country as a result of Putin’s illegal war in Ukraine" and "the need to secure more energy from domestic nuclear and renewable sources". 

Shapps, who served as transport minister in Boris Johnson's government, tweeted that he is “delighted” to head up the new department.

In response to the announcements, shadow climate secretary Ed Miliband said that it looked like Rishi Sunak was now admitting that the decision to get rid of the Department of Energy in 2016 was a mistake.

“Seven years after the disastrous decision to abolish the Department of Energy, the Conservatives now admit they got it wrong, but a rearranging of deckchairs on the sinking Titanic of failed Conservative energy policy will not rescue the country,” the Labour MP tweeted.

“Britain’s energy bills are too high and our system too weak because of years of disastrous decisions: the ongoing onshore wind ban; blocking of solar; slashing of energy efficiency; disastrous regulation of the retail market, and an unlawful net zero plan. All this must change.”

Moreover, Greenpeace warned that Rishi Sunak’s expected creation of a new energy department may not address the climate crisis.

“As climate disasters intensify, energy costs spiral and the world continues to sink under rising seas, without other fundamental reforms, re-establishing a department for energy will be as helpful as rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic," said Dr Dough Parr, UK’s director of policy at Greenpeace, echoing Miliband’s metaphor.

“It’s government policy and underinvestment that is holding back real action on the climate and energy crises, not the departments or ministers in place.

“Unless the new-look department for energy is given the freedom and funding to rapidly scale up renewable energy production – both offshore and on – to shore up domestic supply, as well as roll out a nationwide scheme to insulate the tens of millions of energy-wasting homes across the country, what’s the point?”

The UK is currently facing a cost-of-living crisis, largely provoked by the rise in fuel prices following Russia's invasion of Ukraine. 

The subsequent enormous boost in earnings for energy companies including Shell and BP has led to renewed calls for a toughened windfall tax - something that the new energy department would have to address. 

Reacting to the creation of this new government department, Matt Williams, senior advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said: "If the government wants to prioritise energy security, it needs to end reliance on expensive, imported fuels that destabilise the climate. This includes importing millions of tonnes of wood every year from the world's dwindling forests, to burn in UK power stations.

"Instead, the new secretary of state for energy security should focus on homegrown clean energy technologies like wind, solar and heat pumps that all help bring down families' bills."

Last summer, a cross-party group of peers on the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee described the government’s international science policy as “somewhat incoherent” and warned that the UK is “not on course to meet its ambitions” of becoming a science superpower by 2030.  

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