Theresa May caught everyone by surprise by calling an early election (before being caught by surprise herself – by the outcome!). The problem with any election is that, even if the same party remains in power, there are the inevitable cabinet reshuffles that follow and that means that progress made with former incumbents is often hampered or set back as the new minister gets to know the job and sets their own priorities.
Two key areas where we have seen changes post-election are in apprenticeships and skills, where we have our third new minister in 12 months; and in the approach to electric vehicles – which I will elaborate on separately.
Former Apprenticeships and Skills Minister Robert Halfon was largely seen as having done a good job of sorting out some of the loose ends left by his predecessors around the apprentice reforms and the plans to reform technical education, including the introduction of the new 'T-Level' qualifications. The bill to introduce the latter was passed just before parliament went into purdah leading up to the election, so we know that T-Levels will become a reality in this current parliament.
Robert Halfon’s unexpected and rather sudden dismissal seems likely to have had something to do with him formerly having held down the role of Permanent Private Secretary to the previous Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne. His departure came immediately in the wake of Osborne’s “dead woman walking” comments about Theresa May! His replacement is Anne Milton, a former nurse with 25 years’ experience working in the NHS.
She has strong political credentials having been Conservative Deputy Chief Whip, Shadow Minister for both Culture and Health, Parliamentary Under Secretary for Health, and a member of the Privy Council. But this is her first front line ministerial role in government and, unlike her predecessor, apprenticeships and skills do not feature strongly in her background. We obviously wish her well but she will certainly have her hands full seeing through the government’s reform agenda around apprenticeships and technical education. One of her first jobs must be to sort out funding allocations for non-levy apprentice training which had been frozen owing to the fact that applications outstripped the allocated budget by 300%!
Prior to the election the way forward for electric and autonomous vehicles seemed set to be established by the ‘Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill’. With the help of erstwhile Shadow Transport Minister (and IMI Honorary Fellow) Richard Burden MP, we had tabled an amendment to that bill requiring those working on the high voltage systems of electric and hybrid vehicles to be licensed and I had presented that amendment to the bill’s Select Committee.
As a follow-on to that hearing, I was due to meet Minister of State for Transport John Hayes to discuss our requirements just as the election was called! It now seems that the bill didn’t survive the last parliament and has been replaced by the newly announced ‘Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill’ – and so the process starts again. I will shortly meet with Richard Burden to seek his help in getting our amendment transferred to the new bill and I am in the process of rearranging my meeting with John Hayes to garner his support.
It certainly pays to be persistent and adaptable to change when you are dealing with the machinations of our democracy!