However, this week’s reshuffle was absolutely necessary. After well over two years in power, Mr Johnson is determined that his premiership will not be derailed by Covid, whatever the ongoing challenges we collectively face on escaping the pandemic’s clutches.
His reshuffle aims to move on from the ‘Covid Cabinet’ to his Levelling Up Cabinet. No one will be surprised that Gavin Williamson was shown the door after a tenure that few felt was handled well.
I have known his successor Nadhim Zahawi for many years.
He is an intelligent and capable Minister and I wish him well as the new Education Secretary.
He has a golden opportunity to shape the futures of millions of young people for the better.
Boris has put what he feels is the right team in place, but it still needs the right game plan.
The ultimate test of this reshuffle’s success is a new Cabinet that delivers change on the ground.
That requires Boris Johnson to very actively drive his new Ministerial team on his priority. As he prepares his Levelling Up White Paper to be launched next month, the Prime Minister must ensure every department role is clearly set out, with published plans that work together as an overall approach.
There need not be a tension between the Prime Minister’s Levelling Up White Paper and the parallel process of the Comprehensive Spending Review that his neighbour, Rishi Sunak the Chancellor and Yorkshire MP, is leading.
Lives on track and meeting their potential is how we shift Britain’s economy up a gear. Levelling up is as much an economic strategy as anything else.
Beyond that are further key ingredients of a successful Prime Ministerial game plan for the new Levelling Up Cabinet.
Firstly the Government needs to set out an intellectual architecture on “levelling up” that is not only clear but compelling to a wider public.
He needn’t reinvent a wheel – that architecture already exists through the Levelling Up Goals, developed through my Social Mobility Pledge work.
This breaks down the challenge of levelling up into its 14 key areas. Some goals relate to closing education gaps, or access to opportunities and others deal with the wider societal gaps on health or the digital divide.
Businesses, universities and NHS Trusts are already using that architecture to design their levelling up plans, so it is fit for purpose and can easily be used more widely by Government.
Office for National Statistics metrics already provide lots of data to understand whether inequality of opportunity gaps associated with levelling up are closing or getting wider, and where the priorities are. Employers working with me will be trialling more data collection of their own to give fresh insight into how easy it is to get in and get on in their organisations. Transparency will drive even faster change.
The Prime Minister needs to accept that a one size fits all, Whitehall top-down approach doesn’t work when it comes to driving better social mobility.
I suspect he already knows this, reflected in Michael Gove’s crucial new role as Secretary of State at Housing, Communities and Local Government.
Instead, the change people in Yorkshire and across Britain want to see needs to be driven at a regional and community level.
Whitehall must step back and allow a thousand ‘levelling up’ flowers to bloom. Communities like Rotherham where I grew up have different levelling up challenges to places like Wandsworth, my home now.
Mayors and local authorities can act as crucial conveners, shaping a response to those local challenges by bringing together leaders from business, universities, the voluntary sector, schools and colleges and wider public services such as the NHS. Each section of the community will have its role to play to contribute to its area’s wider plan.
There will be a part of those plans that needs support from central Government, principally in terms of devolving decisions and investment so they can be tailored at a local level to help plans get further faster.
But beyond that, where it is a local employer, the Civil Service also needs to be part of the push alongside businesses and other public sector employers to work with schools and colleges in building local talent to better take opportunities on the doorstep.
Mr Sunak’s role is to provide an economic strategy that stimulates the entrepreneurship and business growth that is the engine of opportunity creation.
All of the Social Mobility Pledge work I’ve focused on for the past several years has taught me that the answers to levelling up are already out there.
The Prime Minister needs to trust in people and local communities and challenge his new Cabinet to get Whitehall behemoth departments to work differently.
More of the same is not going to be good enough.
However, if a new Levelling Up Cabinet can raise its collective game, this week’s reshuffle may prove to be a turning point for Boris Johnson’s premiership, resetting not just his Government but the wider country too.
* Justine Greening was Education Secretary from 2016-18 in Theresa May’s government. She was born in Rotherham.
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