UK's PM creates four ministries with new energy drive
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British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak vowed Tuesday to slash sky-high power bills as he reshuffled his government with a focus on energy, climate net zero targets and scientific innovation.
Sunak created four new ministries in his first cabinet overhaul since his surprise ascent to power in October, as he bids to salvage his ruling Conservatives' chances in May local elections.
Referencing Russia's invasion of Ukraine, he said that events over the past year showed the danger "when we're reliant on imported energy from hostile countries".
"That's why the creation today of a new department focused specifically on energy security and net zero is so important," he told reporters.
"It's going to mean that we can reduce people's energy bills," as well as drive the "transition to cleaner forms of energy as we hit our net zero ambitions and create jobs in the process", he added.
The surge in energy bills has fuelled a cost-of-living crisis for many Britons and a series of public-sector strikes by nurses, ambulance drivers, train workers and others.
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The inflationary crisis, and the Tories' political infighting, have seen the ruling party slump in the polls against the opposition Labour party.
The reshuffle followed the sacking of Conservative party chairman Nadhim Zahawi over his murky tax affairs, and as Sunak's predecessors Boris Johnson and Liz Truss resurface with veiled criticism of his policy agenda.
Sunak appointed close confidant Greg Hands to replace Zahawi in the role of party chair and cabinet minister without portfolio -- tasked with avoiding a rout for the Tories in May and at the next general election expected next year.
"The work starts right away," Hands tweeted -- although Sunak's choice of former Labour-turned-Tory MP Lee Anderson as deputy Conservative chairman attracted fierce criticism.
Anderson has a history of remarks judged offensive by many -- including attacks on poor people using food banks, and on the England football team for taking the knee before games in an anti-racism gesture.
"That sound you can hear? It's the Conservatives scraping the barrel," Labour MP Zarah Sultana tweeted about Anderson.
The new Department for Energy Security and Net Zero will be headed by Grant Shapps, who was formerly business and energy secretary.
Sunak's spokesman rebuffed criticism that his government has backtracked on climate change compared to Johnson's tenure.
The spokesman said that "equally, it's about making sure we have energy security, whether that's offshore wind or nuclear".
Doug Parr, Greenpeace UK's director of policy, said the new department would prove as "helpful as rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic".
"It's government policy and underinvestment that is holding back real action on the climate and energy crises, not the departments or ministers in place," he said in a statement.
Minus its energy portfolio, Shapps' old business department is being merged with the international trade ministry, whose head and rising Tory star Kemi Badenoch takes on the expanded brief.
Sunak also launched a new Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, switching ex-culture secretary Michelle Donelan into that role.
The prime minister, who studied and worked in California, has spoken of his mission to drive scientific discovery and turn Britain into a new "Silicon Valley".
But scientific lobby groups said the government must first prioritise restoring UK membership of the European Union's "Horizon" programme for joint research, which ended with Brexit.
Junior minister Lucy Frazer was promoted to replace Donelan as secretary of state for the new-look Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
One cabinet member keeping his job is Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab, despite mounting accusations that Sunak's ally has bullied and victimised civil servants.
But nodding to Zahawi's abrupt dismissal, Sunak warned "I won't hesitate to take swift and decisive action" if given conclusive findings of wrongdoing by a probe that is currently being held into Raab.