Chris Huhne’s climate department is under threat from the Treasury which wants to swallow it up
Climate change secretary Chris Huhne is fighting to defend his department’s funding and independence, fending off a suggestion that his civil servants should be moved to the Treasury to cut costs.
Huhne is having to resist the Treasury on numerous policy fronts. He has rejected the relocation idea, fearing his department’s civil servants would “go native” if they moved into offices in the Treasury.
The Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc) was created in 2008 by combining responsibilities which had been part of the previous business and environment departments. The move was praised at the time as an attempt to connect two areas of policy that had sometimes acted in competition.
But when all government departments were asked to model the effect of 40% cuts over the summer, officials at Decc told ministers that cuts of that level to its £3.2bn budget would make it unable to stand alone as a viable entity. At that time it was suggested it merge with the business department, but that was never formally suggested to the Treasury. Instead the Treasury renewed a push to get Decc relocated.
Decc and the Treasury would not be the only ministries sharing. The permanent secretary at the department for culture, media and sport is making plans to move in to the department for international development.
The news came today as Huhne gave his speech to the Liberal Democrat conference. His pitch was that the government wanted to foster a “third industrial revolution” in low-carbon technology. But the techno-optimism of the speech sat awkwardly with the news that he has been forced to contemplate breaking up his department.
Observers are concerned about the relationship between Decc and the Treasury in the run-up to the forthcoming spending review, which will decide all departments’ funding for the next five years.