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UK Parliament To Debate Abolition Of Department of Energy and Climate Change

Robin Pagnamenta, The Times

In Whitehall parlance it is known as “mogging” — slamming together or scrapping departments to save cash. Speculation about machinery of government changes is set to reach a fever pitch this week as MPs debate a private member’s bill on the abolition of the Department of Energy and Climate Change.

The bill, introduced by the maverick Tory MP Peter Bone, is unlikely to pass — in its current form at least. Nevertheless, for the hundreds of civil servants at DECC, the debate will not be much fun because its dissolution remains a distinct possibility.

With George Osborne asking for departments to prepare for budget cuts of as much as 40 per cent, winding up one or two would help to ease the burden on those that are considered indispensable. Ministers are urgently running the rule over possible savings in advance of the chancellor’s autumn spending review on November 25.

DECC has always been an unwieldy beast, tossed together from bits of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the old DTI in a shake-up led by Gordon Brown in 2008.

It remains relatively small and could simply be broken up, with the energy policy parts rolled into the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the DTI’s successor, and climate policy folded back into Defra. After all, that is the structure that existed only seven years ago.

Best of all for Mr Osborne, unlike most other departments, DECC’s abolition would have no direct impact on public services. Outside Whitehall, few people would notice. Mr Osborne is not known for his sentimentality towards such changes, especially when the political risks are so low. His hunt for cost savings makes DECC a prime target.

However, there are risks here. Machinery of government changes can be blunt. The disruption can last for years, as experienced Whitehall mandarins get bogged down by the logistics and the need to forge relationships with new colleagues and permanent secretaries. […]

The timing of the autumn spending review also poses a tricky challenge for Mr Osborne, coming only a week before the start of the UN climate policy conference in Paris.

Scrapping DECC then would hardly send an encouraging message on British leadership on the problem of climate change. Nor would it chime well with David Cameron’s dubious pledge to lead the “greenest government ever”.

It would also deal an extremely awkward hand to Amber Rudd, DECC’s well-respected secretary of state, who was appointed only six months ago. If Mr Osborne does choose to wind up DECC, he might wait until the new year to do so — but I certainly wouldn’t rule out his doing so before then.

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see also: It’s The Right Climate To Scrap The Department Of Energy And Climate Change, City A.M.

Abolishing DECC would be good for cost-effective energy policy, good for consumers and good for the Exchequer.