Our Account Manager Laura Cunliffe-Hall provides an insight into Boris Johnson’s new Cabinet and what the infrastructure sector can expect in the months to come.
Last week Boris Johnson comfortably defeated Conservative leadership rival Jeremy Hunt to become the next UK Prime Minister. Johnson pledged to ‘deliver Brexit, unite the country and defeat Jeremy Corbyn’. In his first speech in Downing Street, Johnson identified that the delivery of improved road and rail infrastructure was key to uniting the country by ‘physically and literally renewing the ties that bind us together.’
It was then time for the long-awaited Cabinet reshuffle, as Johnson radically overhauled the existing Cabinet. 17 ministers (mostly Theresa May loyalists), lost their jobs. We summarise the new team in place tasked with delivering the key infrastructure that is vital for the UK’s social and economic prosperity:
Grant Shapps – Secretary of State for Transport
Grant Shapps has taken over from Chris Grayling at the Department for Transport (DfT). He has previously acted as a Shadow Housing minister and a minister for the then Department of Communities and Local Government (now Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government), following the 2010 election.
Shapps is committed to Heathrow expansion, making his appointment surprising considering the historic vehement opposition to expansion by his new boss, who famously once claimed that he would ‘lie down’ in front of the bulldozers’ with his Uxbridge and South Ruislip constituents.
Shapps is also committed to wider infrastructure projects and chairs the British Infrastructure Group of MPs, which has previously backed advancements in aviation and high-speed internet. As part of the Group, he previously critiqued council expenditure on traffic management, including traffic lights and signage.
Whilst Shapps has not vocally backed HS2, he has consistently voted in support of the project and has previously supported rail devolution, backing TfL to take over the Great Northern Line to Welwyn Hatfield, his constituency.
With a number of major projects in the pipeline, Shapps will immediately need to get up to speed on his new brief. His record suggests that he will be committed to improving and investing in the UK’s transport infrastructure.
Robert Jenrick – Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government
A former lawyer and the first ever Cabinet minister to be born in 1980s, the MP for Newark is relatively unknown in the housing and property sector.
Taking over from predecessor James Brokenshire, Jenrick has made few comments on housing policy publicly. However, in October 2017, he wrote a column for The Times calling for policies to be brought forward that assist smaller builders in the market and establish development corporations to build new towns. Jenrick also expressed a clear preference for home ownership, calling for homes to be built on public land and sold at cost to the under 40s.
In his role as MP for Newark, he campaigned against heavy fees charged by house builders and management companies.
As Jenrick is one of three ministers who has been appointed to Johnson’s Cabinet (alongside Esther McVey and Jake Berry), it suggests that housing will be a key priority going forward.
Andrea Leadsom – Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
After months of backing Johnson in the wider media, former Leader of the Commons Leadsom has been rewarded with a high-profile brief, replacing Greg Clark.
A committed Brexiteer, Leadsom has also served as an Environment Secretary in the first year of Theresa May’s government between 2016 and 2017. She has previously backed infrastructure investment, including public transport schemes and electric buses for the north of England, seeking to simultaneously boost the economy and keep emissions down.
Some have already questioned Leadsom’s commitment to the net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 target, as she has previously critiqued onshore wind and voiced support for fracking and nuclear energy.
Whilst Leadsom has previously voted in favour of Heathrow expansion, she has been a longstanding critic of HS2. At the start of the 2016 Tory leadership race, which Theresa May eventually won, the campaign group ‘Stop HS2’ even said that Leadsom had ‘the strongest Stop HS2 credentials’ of all of the Conservative candidates.
Leadsom has supported Hinkley Point C, claiming that it will ‘blaze a trail for new nuclear projects in Britain.’ Her previous record suggests that she will be ruffling feathers in business and the civil service with her advocacy for a no-deal Brexit, whilst the growing public awareness of green and environmental issues means that she will face tough questions on her ability to deliver climate policy action.
Theresa Villiers – Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
A former lawyer and MEP, Theresa Villiers acted as the former Northern Ireland Secretary under David Cameron and previously served as minister in the Department for Transport (DfT).
Assuming the role from Johnson’s arch-rival Michael Gove, Villiers has backed HS2 but has argued against the expansion of Heathrow and Gatwick airports, favouring greater use of regional airports such as Birmingham International.
Villiers is committed to animal welfare; after years of opposing the fox hunting ban, she decided to support it in 2017.
Another keen Brexiteer, Villiers’ voting record on the environment has been mixed. In 2015, she voted against cutting the permitted carbon dioxide emission rate of new homes. She also supported selling off England’s state-owned forests. She has however supported a campaign by her constituents in suburban north London against building on agricultural fields.
As Villiers has previously talked about the “need to strike the right balance between the legitimate concerns of landowners, and the benefits to society as a whole of permitting development”, this suggests that she should be open-minded to infrastructure and development projects and less committed to opposing them on environmental grounds.
For more information on the public affairs and political monitoring services that we offer at Copper Consultancy, please contact Laura.Cunliffe-Hall@copperconsultancy.com.