New name is a smokescreen for inaction

By Michael Burton | 10 January 2018
  • Michael Burton

Monday was a good day for stationery suppliers and sign writers. Think of all that headed notepaper marked ‘Department for Health’ and ‘Department for Communities and Local Government’ now lying abandoned in piles. Will they continue to be used until they run out or will they be recycled into lavatory paper?

I have been around long enough to remember the previous incarnations of what from this week has now become MHCLG (Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government).

It can’t be too long before its name turns full circle and the department becomes once again the Ministry of Housing and Local Government as it was in the 1950s until it became the Department for the Environment in 1970. In 1997 it was renamed the Department for the Environment, Transport and the Regions until 2001 when it became the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions and then in 2002 the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister.

In 2006 it became the Department for Communities and Local Government and has managed to keep its name through four Prime Ministers which must be a record in Whitehall.

The name changes are of course meaningless. If anything, throughout the years when ‘transport’ was in its title the department was notable for doing very little about transport.

The fact that ‘housing’ is now part of its new name augurs badly for any real action on housing, any more than having ‘social care’ in the new Department for Health and Social Care means any radical action to tackle the social care crisis.

Like a scene out of Yes Minister the Government thinks that changing the nameplates of the two Whitehall departments will be perceived by the public as signifying commitment in housing and social care.

So far, soundbites and speeches from ministers have promised lots of action in both sectors but delivered little; renaming departments is just another cop-out.

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