Willetts steps down in Government’s ‘night of the long knives’

David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science, has stepped down from his post as part of a major Government reshuffle that has been dubbed a ‘night of the long knives’.

David Willetts
David Willetts

As part of his brief within the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, Willetts took on design industry responsibilities. He oversaw the 2010 Temple Review, which saw the Design Council reformed as a charity.

Last year Design Museum director Deyan Sudjic led calls for Willetts to take on the role of Minister for Design and advocate the place of design in education.

Willetts, who is set to stand down as an MP next year after 22 years representing the constituency of Havant, is understood to have resigned from his post.

He is being replaced by Greg Clark, who takes on the Science and Universities brief in addition to his role as Minister in charge of cities and constitution at the Cabinet Office.

According to the BBC, Prime Minister David Cameron paid tribute to Willetts, saying, in reference to his nickname, ‘I have been proud to have “two brains” at the heart of my team, both in opposition and in Government.’

Design Council chief executive John Mathers says, ‘David Willetts has been strong supporter of design in his time at the Department, having overseen the Temple Review, which saw the Design Council’s rebirth as a charity.

‘We wish him well in his career and are looking forward to working closely with Greg Clark at what is an exciting and pivotal time for the design industry.’

Naomi Turner, head of the Manufacturing, Design and Innovation Group at Policy Connect, says, ‘Towards the end of his tenure, David Willetts demonstrated an impressive grasp of how design can – and should – be taught alongside the STEM subjects to go some way towards unlocking truly meaningful innovation. It will take some time for his replacement to gain the same literacy and confidence in speaking about the confluence between the “hard sciences” and design.

‘Despite the overarching government rhetoric about the “new industrial revolution”, the devil is in the detail – and particularly difficult given the institutional separation between the technology and design camps. Willetts also pushed the Intellectual Property Bill through Parliament, which, although imperfect, represents an important step in design protection for UK SMEs in particular.’

Turner adds, ‘At the same time, however, Willetts presided over a department which substantially raised university tuition fees, with applications to art and design courses falling sharply as a result. For prospective design students, the financial payoff for going to university may not be immediately apparent, and many will be put off from even applying.

‘The UK’s celebrated reputation for design excellence was founded some decades ago on the basis of free higher education for students of all backgrounds. We now see growing concerns about the erosion of diversity in the design sector, from which the steep rise in tuition fees are impossible to separate.’

Willetts’s resignation is part of a major Government reshuffle, ahead of next year’s election, which also sees William Hague replaced as Foreign Secretary and Michael Gove step down as Education Secretary.

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