THE move of Michael Gove to a new department raises questions over the effectiveness of the UK Government’s operation of its Union strategy, experts say.

In the long-awaited reshuffle last week, the former Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was moved to head up the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) in England.

Gove has also been put in charge of Boris Johnson’s flagship policy of “levelling up” across the UK, while keeping ministerial responsibility for the Union and elections.

However experts have raised questions whether an effective cross-government union strategy can be successfully run from a single department and say that Gove will need to rely on back-up from Johnson.

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Jess Sargeant, senior researcher with the Institute of Government think-tank, said the combination of roles Gove had been given was “surprising”.

“I think one of the reasons for moving Michael Gove to the MHCLG is that the Shared Prosperity Fund sits there,” she said.

“That is the programme that will replace EU funding post-Brexit and it is clear that this a key part of the UK Government’s Union strategy, wanting to be spending more money in the devolved administrations.

“So there is a logic to putting him in charge of that as well as his continuing role as minister for the Union.

“But there are some questions to what happens to some of the functions that he was previously doing – so for example, as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster he would meet the head of the devolved administrations on a regular basis to talk about issues like Covid recovery.

“It is not really clear whether he can continue to fulfil that role.

“There are some loose ends and questions about his role as minister for the Union which have been opened up by this move.”

Sergeant said Gove’s new role was not traditionally one of the great offices of state and it raised questions over whether the move was a “demotion”.

The National: Michael Gove addresses delegates during the Scottish Conservatives' annual party conference at the Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre in 2019

But she added: “At the same time, he has got responsibility for levelling up, he’s got responsibility for housing and he’s obviously got responsibility for the Union, which are the Government’s key priorities.”

Sargeant also pointed out that including the union in the MHCLG might suggest the devolved administrations were equal to local governments or councils – which they would be “very unhappy with”.

But she added: “I think there is a broader policy logic behind this.

“Having said that, one of the big questions it that the union strategy for the UK Government will need to span all government departments – it will be a whole government action not just the work of one individual department.

“In the Cabinet Office, there was a clear ability for the union strategy to work with other departments.

“It’s much more difficult for a single department to tell other departments they need to be thinking about the union or they need to have a role in the work.

“Fundamentally if it is going to work and you are going to have that cross-government working, it is going to need intervention from the Prime Minister to make that successful.”

In a blog post, Jill Rutter senior research fellow at the think-tank UK in Changing Europe, also suggested Gove will need help from Johnson in his brief to save the Union and raise the profile of UK Government’s activity in Scotland.

She said: “To many in Scotland and Wales, moving intergovernmental relations to a department which has always had a tricky relationship with English local government may simply look like another attempt to reduce their status to little more than souped-up local authorities.

“Out of the centre, Gove will have much less of an overview of what is going on across government, and therefore be less well placed to spot and defuse potential landmines before his colleagues step on them.”

She added: “By taking these responsibilities out of the centre, the Prime Minister may find that Gove’s success depends critically on the extent to which he is prepared to put in his own effort.”