Question marks hover over BIS future

Concerns about the future of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) may spark an investigation by a powerful committee of MPs, its former chair has warned.

Rumours are rife that BIS may be scrapped in this Parliament, with its various functions split between other departments such as the Department for Education and Department for Work and Pensions.

Right-wing think tank The Taxpayers’ Alliance, which has links to the Conservatives, has recommended the move as a way to save billions of pounds, while new Business Secretary Sajid Javid is reported to have been open to the idea of its closure when he worked at the Treasury. And Labour MP Adrian Bailey (pictured), who chaired the BIS select committee in the last Parliament, said it would be a key matter to be considered by the influential group if he is successful in being re-elected to the chair.

Adrian Bailey

Adrian Bailey

He told The Independent following his re-election as MP for West Bromwich West: “Looking at the scale of the cuts that are coming, it is difficult to see how BIS could survive in its current shape.

“Also, I want to look at skills, because the UK still has an incredible skills gap and I’m not sure any of the parties have addressed that.”

The appointment of Mr Javid on Monday also triggered speculation among FE professionals on Twitter about the department’s closure.

Twitter user Paul Crisp said: “So rumours of imminent demise of BIS unfounded or just delayed? Or BIS without F/HE?” before going on to suggest Mr Javid may have been put in place to carry out a “hatchet job”.

And 157 Group executive director Dr Lynne Sedgmore replied: “Love the irony of an SOS [Secretary of State] leading the very dept he supported abolishing previously”, adding that the sector would know more following the government’s planned spending review.

Mr Bailey and his committee played a key role in challenging the government over some of the key elements of skills policy over the last five years, including apprenticeships, adult literacy and numeracy and student loans.

Another key player in the committee rooms in the last Parliament was Graham Stuart, the Conservative MP who chaired the education select committee.

Mr Stuart declined on whether he planned to seek re-election to committee chair.


Who’d be a select committee chair?

In each Parliament, select committee membership broadly reflects the political make-up of the House of Commons.

The first announcement about committees following the Queen’s Speech on May 27 will be about the number of chairmanships allocated to each party, for which only MPs of that party can stand for election by the whole House.

Negotiations over the make-up of committees may be more complicated this time due to the large increase in the number of Scottish National Party MPs in Parliament and the fact that many of the departmental committees deal with issues specific to England. Final details of membership will be known mid to late June.

In 2010, the allocation of chairmanships by party was announced on May 26, the day after the state opening of Parliament. The elections took place on June 9, with Adrian Bailey winning in the second round with 297 votes to Barry Sheerman’s 225. Graham Stuart won in the third round with 244 votes to Rob Wilson’s 221.