Rishi Sunak has created a standalone ministry for energy security as he tries to improve economic growth and cut sky-high bills in the face of disastrous poll ratings.
In a mini-reshuffle, the prime minister also plumped for an ally to replace Nadhim Zahawi, the Conservative party chair sacked a week ago after he was found to have broken the ministerial code over his tax affairs.
Greg Hands, a Sunak loyalist seen as a safe pair of hands, is now tasked with saving dozens of Tory MPs seats at the next general election. But Mr Sunak risked a backlash by appointing Lee Anderson, a Tory MP who said food bank users can’t budget, as deputy chairman.
Amid the changes, No 10 did not deny that Michael Gove was the prime minister’s first choice for the newly created role of science secretary, which eventually went to former culture secretary Michelle Donelan.
And – as part of an unusual reshuffle in which no-one was sacked – the embattled deputy prime minister Dominic Raab remains in post while an investigation into his conduct continues.
Mr Sunak said his shake-up of Whitehall departments would allow teams to focus “on the issues that will build a better future for our children and grandchildren”.
But No 10 admitted the changes were no “silver bullet”, although it said they were important to the prime minister’s five priorities, which include halving inflation and growing the economy.
However, critics said the reshuffle, just 100 days after he became prime minister, showed Mr Sunak’s weakness.
The prime minister has broken up the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy into separate ministries – creating a new energy department in the process.
There will also be a new science, innovation and technology department.
The Department for Business, Energy and Economic Strategy will be combined with International Trade, which will cease to be a separate department.
And what was Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has been shrunk, with the digital brief moving to the new science ministry.
Grant Shapps, the former business secretary has become the new secretary for energy security and net zero.
In what amounts to a big promotion, Kemi Badenoch, who was in charge of international trade, becomes the business and trade secretary. The move will see the Tory leadership contender who became a darling of the anti-woke right during the summer contest take on responsibility for boosting British business at home and abroad.
As part of the changes Lucy Frazer also joins the cabinet as the new culture secretary.
Her promotion leaves a vacancy for the post of housing minister at the levelling up department. A replacement would mean the nation would have its sixth new housing minister in a year.
The Lib Dems said the changes showed that Mr Sunak was “looking weaker by the day”.
Boris Johnson loyalist Nadine Dorries said it was “sad” that the culture department had been diminished, saying it had “tragically lacked profile of late”.
The shake-up has been under consideration for some time within Downing Street. But news of the reshuffle was kept within a small circle. Sources in government departments at the centre of the changes admitted they had not been told what was to happen less than two hours before the changes were unveiled.
No 10 denied the changes downgraded the importance of international trade, insisting the reality was “quite the opposite”.
With the loss of the words “Industrial Strategy” from the name of the new business department, Downing Street confirmed there were no plans to create a new one.
But asked if the prime minister wanted to create a new “Silicon valley” this side of the Atlantic, No 10 said “certainly we think there are huge opportunity for the UK … in innovation and innovative new tech and there is much more we can do to grow that capability.”
And “significant proportion” of funds would also go to the Oxford-Cambridge Arc project, which the Independent revealed in November had been resurrected as a government priority.
Simon Clarke, an ally of Liz Truss., appeared to criticise the plans on energy, saying that “planning reform” was the “holy grail” for the UK’s energy supply. He said the UK “simply cannot indulge nimbyism any longer” when it comes to energy projects, but expressed doubts changes would be possible before the next election.