British PM Theresa May faces further criticism of her domestic policy in the face of Brexit pressures after it emerged that almost half of the staff in the newly created Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy admitted they did not know what the Whitehall office stands for. The prime minister surprised many in Westminster when she combined business, energy and climate change to form BEIS. The move, one of several changes to the makeup of Whitehall, was aimed at bolstering the traditionally weak business department, and checking the dominance of the Treasury.
But as the business secretary, Greg Clark, prepares to launch the government's industrial strategy later this month, it has emerged that almost half of his staff say they have no clear idea what BEIS stands for. In a recent survey, carried out in the autumn, many of the staff based at two headquarters buildings in London showed little enthusiasm for the reorganization.
About half (48%) of said they did not "have a clear understanding of BEIS's purpose"; while 19% agreed that the organizational changes have been for the better. The shadow business secretary, Clive Lewis, said: "This is not only a resounding thumbs down for the business secretary from his own staff but also an indictment on the prime minister's flagship reorganization of government, which seems to have left her civil servants as concerned as the rest of us.
"She sent a dangerous signal by abolishing the Department for [Energy and] Climate Change and six months on there is no sign of the industrial strategy that was in the new department's name, business is still waiting for answers on Brexit and the only jobs that they have created were changing the signs over their door on Whitehall." BEIS's headquarters is close to Victoria station but the department is also still occupying DECC's former base off Whitehall, nearby. Insiders said being split between two sites had not helped the departments to pull together and that plans to bring all the staff into one building had taken longer than expected. Civil servants in several different departments are feeling the strain of a rapid reorganization of Whitehall to equip the government for the task of managing Brexit negotiations, which are expected to begin formally by the end of March.
BEIS's role has also been complicated by the fact that some of its former trade responsibilities have been hived off to the new Department of International Trade led by Liam Fox.