‘Where Art Thou DCMS?’

The appointment of Sajid Javid as the new Culture Secretary this week could boost the prospects for a Department around which constant rumours of abolition persist. With the civil service headcount under 50% of what it was at its peak as a result of severe budget cuts, DCMS last year moved out of its flagship offices on Trafalgar Square, to rather more ignominious rooms in the rafters of the Treasury, alongside HMRC. The appointment of Sajid Javid as Culture Secretary could suggest a renaissance for the Department, with the prospect of DCMS functions being rolled into BIS and the Cabinet Office receding for good.

Some commentators have pointed out that it is to the department’s good fortune that Javid is a man of finance and can make the economic case for his portfolio rather than appealing to the sentiment of sporting gold or cultural icons. However, the department’s portfolio is a diverse one. Sport and Culture sit alongside Media. Although the Leveson inquiry and report gave has given the latter high profile recently, it is forthcoming decisions affecting the communications infrastructure of this country that might present Javid with his greatest opportunity to impact UK economic growth and international competitiveness.

The Department is currently developing its digital infrastructure strategy which, by the end of this year, will describe the digital ‘mainframe’ this country needs to meet the needs of users in 2025-30 and ensure the UK is a ‘leading digital nation’. The strategy will effectively set out how the Government manages these assets, making them work both for the taxpayer (generating income for the Treasury) and for business (allowing the ‘knowledge economy’ to flourish). As such, it is no accident that Javid has arrived at the DCMS at this time.

As he has not yet got his feet under the desk, it might be tempting fate to speculate how Javid’s tenure at DCMS will be remembered. If he consolidates DCMS reputation as the standard bearer in Government for the digital economy then this will ripple round the Whitehall estate. This is territory that both Number 10 and 11 enjoy claiming credit for and could rival the focus BIS has on innovation as a driver for business in the UK.

With a new administration only 12 months away (and with it the opportunity to reconfigure Departmental responsibilities) we will be following the political trajectory of the Department as well as its Secretary of State with interest.