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by JOSEPH WATTS, Political editor
Wednesday, September 5, 2012
New health minister Norman Lamb might expect some heckling from the Labour benches. There is, after all, a smidgeon of irony in him being tasked to help implement NHS reform he once threatened to resign over.
Back in a 2011 interview the North Norfolk Liberal Democrat MP said he would quit his government job if then health secretary Andrew Lansley did not alter the controversial changes he was pushing through Parliament.
Alterations were made and in the end Mr Lamb said he was satisfied enough to back the reforms in the Commons. But after yesterday’s government reshuffle he will do much more, he will actually help set them in place across the country.
He said: “My concern was always about the government’s head long rush to reform, but in the end there was more flexibility that was put in there.
“I didn’t have an objection to the principle of clinicians being given more power to commission services, in fact I had previously written about the absolute importance of clinicians being given that power.
“I’m 500pc committed to the NHS, and I’ve spent my entire time since being elected campaigning on it.”
Mr Lamb will specifically be responsible for social care; a big job given the UK’s current crisis in care funding which has seen the government criticised for failing to establish a solid plan to cover the burgeoning cost of elderly care.
Mr Lamb said: “Every government in every developing country is having to deal with this enormous challenge with an ageing population and people living longer; it’s a great thing but there are massive cost implications.
“It’s going to be part of my role to ensure there is the best possible care for older people and that they can grow old with dignity and self respect.”
It was widely reported that Mr Lansley blocked Mr Lamb from getting a job at the Department of Health in 2010 due to a fall out between the two men. So there is something fateful in the Norfolk MP’s arrival in the Whitehall department in the same reshuffle that is pushing Mr Lansley out.
Meanwhile South West Norfolk MP Liz Truss, long tipped for promotion, was made early years minister in the Department for Education.
The MP has long campaigned to improve the supply and quality of early years learning, with her most recent contribution a policy paper published earlier in 2012.
She told the EDP: “I’m delighted by the new job. The paper I wrote looks at ways that regulation on childcare can be simplified and how the payment mechanism for parents can be simplified. It’s not acceptable that parents here pay the highest proportion of their income on childcare compared to any country other than Switzerland.
“The aspiration is to attract more childminders to the profession as well.”
After a period at the Treasury which famously saw her endure a grilling from BBC presenter Jeremy Paxman, Norwich North MP Chloe Smith will take up a job at the Cabinet Office.
She said: “Where ever I work as a minister my first and main commitment is to Norwich North.
“But I am pleased with the new role and look forward to it. I’m proud of the work I’ve done on the Small Donations Bill and in introducing a minimum unit price on alcohol, which will help Norwich pubs.
“The country still faces the most enormous challenge in dealing with the economic situation and that is not something one leaves behind when leaving the Treasury.”
Meanwhile West Suffolk MP Matt Hancock was awarded a position at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and Central Suffolk MP Dr Dan Poulter also secured a role at the Department of Health. It was unclear yesterday whether North West Norfolk MP Henry Bellingham would retain his position at the Foreign Office.
Elsewhere in the cabinet David Cameron’s first reshuffle was not as sweeping.
Chancellor George Osborne, foreign secretary William Hague, home secretary Theresa May, education secretary Michael Gove, defence secretary Phil Hammond, communities secretary Eric Pickles and work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith all kept their jobs.
Meanwhile for the Liberal Democrats business secretary Vince Cable, energy secretary Ed Davey and chief secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander remained in their roles.
Perhaps the most significant changes for Norfolk were those at the Department for Transport (DfT) and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).
Justine Greening had been a sympathetic ear at the DfT as Norfolk and Suffolk MPs strove to get road and rail investment; she recently approved funding for the key Ely North rail junction.
But her opposition to a third runway at Heathrow meant she was unlikely to keep her job much longer and yesterday she was moved to the Department for International Development (DFID).
It is not clear whether her replacement as transport chief Patrick McLoughlin, who is afraid of flying, will continue in that vein.
Despite being a veteran MP and member of the government, the former chief whip has never led a major spending department.
“His new job will require different skills to those he employed ensuring Tory MPs followed party line.
Meanwhile Caroline Spelman’s departure from DEFRA will probably be welcomed by many involved in rural issues.
She was responsible for embarrassing u-turns over the selling-off of forest land and culling buzzards, not to mention approving finance for the controversial incinerator in North West Norfolk.
Replacing her will be former Northern Ireland secretary Owen Paterson; considered competent and loyal and with experience as a shadow farming minister between 2003 and 2005.
He will need all of his wit to successfully engage with issues like the dairy crisis, bovine TB, the European sugar regime and reform of the Common Agricultural Policy.
Former international development secretary Andrew Mitchell has become the new chief whip, Mr Lansley is now Leader of the Commons and Maria Miller is promoted to culture secretary. Her predecessor Jeremy Hunt is the new health secretary.
The changes undoubtedly give the government a new dynamic which they will try and capitalise on; one poll had Labour’s lead down to six points at the weekend, though it was low compared to others.
For the chancellor however, there are signs that life will be tougher after the reshuffle. One of his key rivals, Mr Duncan Smith, remains in post, unwilling to accept the further reductions in the welfare budget Mr Osborne wants.
Meanwhile the right winger Chris Grayling takes up a job at the Ministry of Justice where he will be determined to push a tougher line on prisons.
Former justice secretary Ken Clarke had a preference for cheaper community sentences for convicts, which he argued were also more effective at preventing reoffending.
Grayling will likely push for longer and tougher custodial sentences and for the extra money from the Treasury that they require.
If that was not enough of a headache, Mr Clarke has been appointed to a vague economic ministerial brief which could well see him commenting on Mr Osborne’s policies more often and more freely than before.
The government is now expected to announce new policies this week to boost economic growth as part of its pre-conference re-launch.