Experts back Rory Stewart’s call for ministers to serve at least two years
Stewart, the ex-Conservative MP who hosts The Rest is Politics podcast alongside Alastair Campbell, described the reshuffle process as “bizarrely amateur”, given that ministers have to answer questions on their new briefs in public days after being appointed.
He said: “I want to change the system, and I’d like Keir Starmer to sign up for this, to say ‘people should spend a minimum of two years in their role as minister and that when they take over there should be a three-week training period to get them up to speed’.”
He was speaking in the wake of this week’s reshuffle, in which Lee Rowley replaced Rachel Maclean as housing minister, becoming the 16th in 13 years. She was in the role for 279 days.
David Hollingworth, director of communications at mortgage brokerage London & Country, responded: “Expecting ministers to be instantly expert in their field is a tall order and giving time to let ministers understand the issues in the first place as well as giving the time and opportunity to deliver changes sounds sensible.
“How it could be delivered in practice in the current environment would feel like a harder thing to solve and would likely need a greater overhaul.
“For example, what happens if a minister falls out of step with the current party thinking or simply isn’t delivering, or is really delivering in their department and therefore becomes earmarked for a bigger job?
“However it’s hard to argue with there being longer tenure and training, as we welcome in another housing minister.”
The role of housing minister is seen as a mid-level position, ultimately reporting to the housing secretary, currently MIchael Gove.
Ray Bougler, senior technical manager at fellow brokerage John Charcol, wondered whether the two year-period could be set as an ‘ambition’, though he felt making it mandatory wasn’t a viable option.
He said: “I think Rory is spot on with his comment about how bizarrely amateur the system is.
“I also agree that when appointed to a new role as a minister, and I would extend this to more junior ministerial posts, there should be a training period/crash course, although whether three weeks is the right period would depend, among other things, on what previous experience that person had in the relevant department, for example if the financial secretary to the Treasury was promoted to Chancellor one would expect him/her to have already been largely mentored into the position.
“Although in an ideal world spending at least two years as a minister would obviously allow more time to understand the nuances of the job and implement meaningful changes, it would be completely impractical to make this mandatory.
“Things will happen that dictate changes are necessary in unexpected circumstances, but there is certainly plenty of scope to improve the current system and perhaps specify a minimum term of two years as an ambition.
“There should definitely be better succession planning and lessons could be learnt from best practice in the private sector.”
Kate Faulkner, managing director of propertychecklists.co.uk, reckoned the two-year commitment should go further.
She responded: “Yes agreed, although in housing we really need a five-year commitment.”