BEIS perm sec responds after staff raise concerns over new department's identity

Written by Civil Service World on 27 February 2017 in News
News

After the merger of DECC and BIS, the new Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy's permanent secretary Alex Chisholm tells CSW that his department's low ranking for "organisational objectives and purpose" will be addressed in the next Civil Service People Survey

The creation of the new Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy was a "cathartic" moment for staff, the organisation's top civil servant has said, as he responded to concerns over the department's direction raised by officials in the recent Whitehall-wide People Survey.

BEIS was formed last year as part of an expansive shake-up of Whitehall ordered by Theresa May, and involved the merger of the existing Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

The move brought responsibility for business, industrial strategy, science, and energy policy under one roof for the first time in more than a decade.


Interview: BEIS perm sec Alex Chisholm on merging DECC and BIS, the Industrial Strategy, and the Brexit challenge
BEIS budget not yet settled, says perm sec Alex Chisholm
Here's why the scrapping of DECC could actually be good for climate change policy


But, according to the most recent civil service people survey, the move also prompted some concern among staff over the direction of their new organisation.

The latest figures put BEIS at the bottom of the pile in Whitehall for satisfaction with "organisational objectives and purpose", with the department gaining a satisfaction rating of just 52% on this front.

That compares to a civil service-wide average of 83%, and is a far cry from the 2015 scores logged by both the Department for Energy and Climate Change (76%) and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (78%).

Speaking to CSW as part of a wide-ranging interview on the work of BEIS, the department's permanent secretary, Alex Chisholm attributed the low ranking to the initial disruption of the merger, and predicted a turnaround in the next batch of figures.

“I think it’s mainly to do with the timing,” he said. “It was done in October and we were in the process of bringing the department together, chiefly in August and September. It’s pretty inevitable that at that time you’re going to have a group of people who were reasonably well-focused on what their previous departments did, which they’ve been doing most of the year, to then [be] coming to terms with what the new department would do.

"It’s also the case that although we moved pretty rapidly to develop a departmental vision and priorities and how we want to work together and all of that, that was actually launched in November.”

Chisholm – who spent just nine days as perm sec of DECC before it was merged with BIS – acknowledged that government restructures presented a "particular challenge" compared to the private sector, but he claimed that a re-run of the people survey would now yield "a much better result", and said the department was “absolutely” on track to conclude the transition phase of its merger by the end of the current financial year.

"It’s very important that as we transition into the new department… that people don’t just see themselves as having a change of location and leadership and name to the department, but they also see there’s an opportunity to build something better and bigger and stronger here," he said.

"And that in the sum of the parts in adding DECC and BIS together, or most of BIS, we actually get something which is one plus one makes three, rather than a number less than two.”

BEIS has existed in several forms over the decades, with the department responsible of leading on business policy subject to successive machinery of government change at the whim of ministers.

Before it was known as BIS, the department was dubbed BERR – including Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, and was briefly known as the the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills.

Its most longstanding incarnation was as the DTI – the Department for Trade and Industry – and Chisholm told CSW that, for some long-serving staff, the latest configuration had been "quite an exciting and, in a way, cathartic moment".

“For quite a number of people working both in DECC, as it was then, and BIS, there was a sense of a kind of almost a reunification," he said.

"I’m not comparing it to the Berlin Wall… but quite a lot of people, including myself many years ago, had worked in the Department of Trade and Industry which included energy, so there was a sense in which there was a recombination or reunification.”

Chisholm also rejected suggestions that the scrapping of a dedicated energy department signalled a downgrade in the government's commitment to tackling climate change.

The move was criticised at the time by former DECC secretary Ed Miliband as "plain stupid" but the BEIS perm sec said climate change remained "a core part of what we do”.

Share this page

Further reading in our policy hubs

Add new comment

Comments

AK (not verified)

Submitted on 27 February, 2017 - 13:21
It might have helped raise his department's identity if Mr Chisolm could have found something more inspiring to be photographed in front of than a pillar in what appears to be a car park.

Sumit (not verified)

Submitted on 27 February, 2017 - 16:50
I wonder if this is some old photo they had in their stocks - it looks an awful lot like the outside of Fleetbank House rather than anywhere I recognise round 1 Victoria Street.

EO (not verified)

Submitted on 28 February, 2017 - 12:54
Yes agree. it does look like outside Fleet Bank House.

Contact the author

The contact details for the Civil Service World editorial team are available on our About Us page.

Related Articles

Related Sponsored Articles