It was end of term at Westminster last week. Much of Parliament’s time over the past three months has understandably been taken up with the legislation that enables the UK to leave the EU.
According to a recent report by the Institute for Government, Whitehall departments have been told to prepare for Brexit while still pressing ahead with 2015 election manifesto commitments.
On top of that, ministries are continuing to hack back on headcount to save money.
Something has to give is the message from the Institute, essentially a think-tank for civil servants. It urges the government to sort out its priorities by giving departments a clear steer. The report also calls for the reining in of budget cuts for those departments that will be under particular pressure from Brexit.
Prioritisation is already happening de facto in many areas of energy policy. Further evidence of this emerged last week. The lead civil servant at BEIS refused to be pinned down by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee on whether the emissions reduction plan (ERP) would be published by the summer.
Alex Chisholm, permanent secretary at the department, stated he wouldn’t like to “hazard a guess” about when it would appear. His statement was in line with ministers’ repeated commitments to publish the ERP “as soon as possible” this year.
And given the wider shake-up of the UK’s emissions reduction regime, which will be triggered by Brexit, it is hard for the government to plot a way forward. But investors need a bit more certainty from Whitehall.