UK Politics

Sighs at culture department as latest axe rumour denied

Maria Miller, culture secretary
Image caption Culture Secretary Maria Miller has ruffled feathers over Leveson

The prime minister's spokesman has said there are no plans to scrap the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

The statement followed reports that its future might be under threat.

But some government and industry sources have suggested the department could yet be axed.

One government source said: "DCMS officials are pretty poor and industries don't think they're being well served. There's a lot of chatter in Whitehall about this."

A senior telecoms executive told the BBC: "There is no love for the DCMS whatsoever," adding: "No-one has a strongly positive view of the DCMS. That has always been the case. It's always been seen as a weak department."

Those who argue government could get by very well without a separate cabinet minister overseeing culture, media and sport say other departments could pick up its responsibilities.

Press annoyed

Jobs have already been cut at the DCMS, with the headcount falling from more than 500 to 330.

Now the Olympics Games are over, their argument goes, it has served its purpose.

There is criticism too from industry and political sources of the outgoing permanent secretary - the department's most senior civil servant - Jonathan Stephens.

This all draws a weary sigh from DCMS supporters.

They point out the possibility of scrapping the department is often discussed before major financial statements, and officials there have used voluntary redundancies to cut costs.

The Culture Secretary, Maria Miller, they argue, may have made herself unpopular dealing with the Leveson Report - annoying some in the press - and same-sex marriage, upsetting some Conservatives MPs, but that is a sign of her strength.

As for the permanent secretary, he was leaving after six years and a triumphant Olympics, said a DCMS source, and had neither been sacked nor edged out.

And there is support for other personnel.

Two industry figures who spoke to the BBC praised Culture Minister Ed Vaizey.

Mrs Miller has already defended her position on Twitter.

'Nonsense'

When the Labour MP Dan Jarvis tweeted to say sources suggested her department could be scrapped, she took to the social networking site to dismiss that as "nonsense".

The department, though, is used to criticism.

People have questioned its existence ever since its forebear - the Department of National Heritage - was created in 1992.

Back then it was dubbed the Ministry of Fun.

Now it is, like many other departments, negotiating with the Treasury about its 2015 budget.

The process, and the rumours, are far from fun.

Crucially though, a Treasury source describes reports of the DCMS's demise as "nonsense".

And for some in business, the fate of the department is relatively unimportant.

A key chief executive in the creative industries said he simply did not feel strongly about which government department was in charge of which policy.

It was far more important, he said, that civil servants communicated with each other.

He said: "My priority is to make sure you have joined-up government."

For DCMS ministers and staff there are no absolute guarantees.

Asked whether the department would exist in its current form in 2015, the prime minister's spokesman said he would not "speculate on the machinery of government".

It all means that whatever reassurances are given on or off the record, the traditional uncertainty about its future is unlikely to go away.

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