MP Darren Jones meets IIPP MPA students
13 February 2023
The Chair of the UK House of Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee and Labour Member of Parliament for Bristol North West, gave an enrichment lecture
Fresh off the back of a mini-reshuffle of the department he scrutinises, UK Member of Parliament (MP) Darren Jones gave an enrichment lecture to Master of Public Administration (MPA) students at UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose (IIPP) on the future of the UK's industrial strategy on 8 February 2023.
The Chair of the House of Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee, a cross-party group of MPs who scrutinise the work of government, Jones, an MP for the opposition Labour Party, also discussed the feasibility of achieving Net Zero carbon, and outlined his thoughts on what a future Labour government would do differently. The event was organised by head of policy Professor Craig Berry and MPA candidate Holly Jones to supplement students’ Economics of Innovation and Public Purpose class.
The work of the BEIS Committee will now be split into three to reflect three new government departments: Energy Security and Net Zero; Business and Trade; and Science, Innovation and Technology. Darren was not sure what his role in scrutinising this new arrangement would be, though he told students he suspected he might chair the new Business and Trade committee.
With limited time before an election, it isn’t clear to Jones why UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak chose February 2023 to split up a government department, with all the capacity it would drain from vital everyday work and exhaust in re-employing civil servants and creating new internal structures from scratch.
Jones' fascinating insight into the inner workings of a select committee raised questions on constitutional differences between the UK and US, for example: US committees can subpoena those they grill, where the UK cannot even compel witnesses to give evidence, relying on goodwill and damage control to bring private companies forward.
Jones is a former technology lawyer, and his questioning of business leaders including those from Amazon, P&O Ferries and Royal Mail have attracted media attention and made him something of a TikTok star.
Regulators are another focus of the existing BEIS committee, with the energy regulator Ofgem recently brought forward to answer questions about the forcible fitting of pre-payment energy meters. Jones speculated that the narrowing of the focus of the new committee he will chair will allow for more capacity to examine regulatory reform. This is something the committee has not had time to do well with so many inquiries open – including on skills in the labour market, battery manufacturing and what role the post-Brexit state should have in industrial policy.
MPA students were full of praise for the session.
“This was a chance to look through the keyhole into the machinations of the scrutiny process in action, and we will be watching with interest as to where industrial strategy ends up – if at all – in the new departmental structures,” said Holly Jones.