Brown at work on Whitehall shake-up

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Gordon Brown, prime minister elect, will next week start talks with civil service chiefs over a shake-up of Whitehall, looking to merge energy and environment policy and create a new ministry of science and technology.

After his unopposed election on Thursday as the new Labour leader, Mr Brown will begin negotiations with Sir Gus O’Donnell, cabinet secretary, on a Whitehall overhaul that could have serious implications for the future of the Department of Trade and Industry.

Mr Brown and Sir Gus will look to complete any reform before the new prime minister unveils his cabinet line-up 40 days from now.

Sir Gus’s office said on Thursday night that the cabinet secretary would be overseeing a “smooth and effective change of power”.

Senior Whitehall officials insist that no final decisions have been made on how to reconfigure departments. However, the discussions are set to focus on whether to shift energy and science policy from the DTI and how best to manage government policy towards business.

Mr Brown’s unopposed election as Labour leader means the UK will have a six-week interregnum in which there is both a prime minister and prime minister-elect – something unprecedented in UK politics. The Conservatives said the length of the inter-regnum was “ludicrous”.

Many Labour MPs are concerned it will be a period in which Mr Blair will be party to important decisions on the international stage – and that Mr Brown might be excluded.

Mr Brown said it was “absolutely right” that Mr Blair should continue as prime minister until June 27 and that he should attend the upcoming G8 and European Union summits.

In a speech on Thursday Mr Brown said he wanted to earn the public’s trust “not just in foreign policy” but on domestic issues such as the future of public services. Mr Brown said his passion was education, but his “immediate priority” was the NHS.

This comment will be widely viewed as a hint that the new prime minister’s first goal will be to reverse the Conservative’s lead in the polls on the NHS, probably replacing Patricia Hewitt as health secretary. In Washington, President George W. Bush said he could work with Mr Brown, saying he was “a good fellow”.

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