As the days pass from the surprising announcement that saw the Department of Energy and Climate Change culled from Whitehall in favour of the new Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) department, few details have trickled through about how the new branch of government will operate.

With government now on its holidays until 5 September (alright for some), there remains several unanswered questions over what happens now in comparison to what we do know.

New ministers for a new era

In addition to the Whitehall massacre of Cameron supporters from the Conservative Party’s top brass, the decision to scrap DECC came as a surprise to many. With the formation of two new Brexit departments, in hindsight it could have been expected that room would have to be made. Considering the long-running issues with energy policy, and the move away from climate change-related policy in the last year, DECC was always going to be a prime target.

So came BEIS, an all-encompassing beast of a department supposedly linking energy policy to business, which has been crying out for better policy in this area. The demonisation of green tariffs on energy bills which rose out the Tata Steel crisis reminded people of the connection between these two areas and with a government weighted towards business as a driver of change, this link was always going to become more iron-clad.

What this means for the renewables agenda and climate change (notably left off the door of the new department) remains to be seen but what is clear is that a whole new panel of faces have emerged to take on the various briefs.

In addition to the new secretary of state at BEIS, Greg Clark, reports have emerged of which of the new ministerial appointments will head up each policy area of the new department. First up is Baroness Neville-Rolfe, who addressed the House of Lords this week as minister of state for energy to open the debate on Carbon Budget Order 2016.

When asked, BEIS said this appointment had yet to be confirmed however this introduction to the Lords appears to be a fairly clear indication that the decision has been made. And an odd one it is, considering the peer has seemingly little experience in energy related matters. Aside from five years as a non-executive director of the Carbon Trust, the baroness’ career has spanned the boards of ITV, Tesco, PwC and others.

By her own admission at the start of the Lords debate: “I am brand new to this area and have not had a chance to look at, let alone review, the policy.” Hopefully she’ll use the summer to bone up on energy matters, otherwise the failures of DECC are doomed to be repeated.

As for climate change, alarm bells went off everywhere when those two words disappeared from Whitehall. Climate groups argued it meant a row back on policy while government officials said it meant the issue would become the responsibility of all departments. However, Greg Clark explained in his opening days that BEIS would take over responsibility from DECC and it has now been all but confirmed that Nick Hurd will head up the department’s efforts.

As chair of the All Party Parliamentary Environment Group, member of the Environmental Audit Committee, former chair of the Climate Change sub-group of the Conservative Party's Quality of Life policy review commission, and recently named Green MP of the Year (sorry Caroline Lucas), this seems like a good choice. Until the role of climate change in future policy is revealed, it remains unclear how effective he will be allowed to be, but just being there should help.

Who’s watching?

While the line-up of ministers is beginning to take shape, confusion reigns over who will hold them to account. Both the ECC and BIS select committees are in place but parliament is only expected to have one selcomm per department.

Common sense would dictate that a new committee would be formed to include members of both existing panels to see the work from each continue, as well as ensure some level of knowledge and experience in each policy area is retained to effectively scrutinise the new department.

However, common sense can be a rarity in government at times and the word coming out of Westminster is that the BIS committee will likely continue as it is, just under a new name. While this would seem to be a poor decision, not least as the current members have little to no interest in energy having pitched for the business, skills and innovation committee, the fact remains that their responsibilities are likely to supersede those of any new briefs.

The decision rests in the hands of the whips, who will negotiate over the issue and make a decision in September, but all indications point to the current BIS lot stamping their authority on the new department, leaving Angus MacNeil and the other ECC members out in the cold. One or two might be brought in to show some effort is made to reflect the addition of energy policy to the department, but to what extent this could be a token gesture alone remains to be seen.

As one member of the ECC select committee said this week, this change comes at a fairly bad time for the committee. James Heappey said on Tuesday: “[There is] a real nervousness about [the industry] voice in parliament being lost. We were just starting to get some traction that instead of government thinking of this as green crap that actually this is an economic and industrial and technological opportunity.”

Still waiting

This poor timing for the change from DECC to BEIS, and the subsequent shifting of select committees, also places a question mark over the work both have been doing in recent months.

Beginning with DECC, we’re still waiting for the response to the consultation on RHI reforms, which closed at the beginning of March; a second consultation on reforming the business energy efficiency tax landscape expected this month; a decision on implementing an exemption for energy intensive industries from the indirect costs of the RO and the FITs; and responses to the currently open consultation on the next energy supplier obligation scheme.

It’s assumed that BEIS will take these over but predicting policy these days, particularly with the new business led focus of the department, is not worth the effort.

As for the ECC select committee, the news is a lot less encouraging. While the group’s inquiry into the UK’s 2020 heat and transport is thought to be nearing completion and is likely to be published in September, the future of their other investigations seems bleak.

The expectation is that the newly opened inquiries – implications of Brexit on energy and climate policy, investigating the energy revolution and the UK’s new nuclear policy – will be ditched, with written submissions only thought to be used if any rudimentary report is published.