Friday 13th may be unlucky for some, but for Lord Mandelson, last Friday was an important day. Hardly anyone, except for consitutional geeks like me, will have noticed, but it was the day on which Statutory Instrument 2009/2748 came into force.
This piece of secondary legislation, approved by The Queen personally at a meeting of the Privy Council last month, goes by the long title of the Ministers of the Crown, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills Order 2009. As the name suggests, it puts on a legal footing the changes announced by Gordon Brown in his reshuffle in June, when he gave Lord Mandelson his new empire, and merged the short-lived DIUS with BERR. Whilst the change in ministerial title took effect immediately (Her Majesty can call her Secretaries of State what she likes, and perhaps in private, she does), the actual merger or creation of Departments takes legislation to transfer their functions and amend existing legislation.
So the latest Order asserts grandly that 'The person who at the coming into force of this Order is the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and any successor to that person is by that name a corporation sole.' It then goes on to transfer the functions of the Secretaries of State for DIUS and BERR to the new overlord, and to clarify that actions taken by those previous Secretaries of State still have legal force.
The most notable element in this order is that the actual transfer of functions itself is relatively simple, transferring the entirity of the old Departments' functions to the new one. The order two years ago creating BERR and DIUS (as well as DCSF) was much more complex, having effectively to split two departments into three. A look at that document shows how disruptive and messy organisational restructures can be, and why they should be avoided if at all possible.
Institutional instability has a very disruptive effect on businesses, and recent structural changes (notably in the skills sector) have risked adding to existing confusion. Some Parliamentarians have rightly expressed concern about the ease with which Prime Ministers chop and change Departments, and this little-noticed report by the Public Administration Select Committee is well worth a read.