Stephen Timms has been replaced as business and competitiveness minister by Baroness Shriti Vadera, formerly of the Department for International Development. Her new role effectively puts her in charge of IT and communications issues for the UK.
Following the resignation of Peter Hain on 24 January as work and pensions secretary, the ensuing governmental reshuffle saw Timms become minister of state for employment and welfare reform. Until that point, Timms had been the minister of state for competitiveness at the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) — itself known until recently as the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).
One of Timms's briefs had been the UK's broadband infrastructure, currently in a state of flux as the core network is being upgraded by BT and others into a "next-generation network" (NGN). He had also been dealing with more general IT issues, like training and e-commerce. The move towards "next-generation access" (NGA) — or fibre to the home (FTTH) — will pose challenges for Vadera, as it is yet to be determined who will pay for the upgrade.
Formerly an undersecretary of state, Vadera — a close ally of the prime minister, Gordon Brown — now has a full, albeit junior, ministerial post for the first time. Her full title is now parliamentary undersecretary of state for business and competitiveness, and her brief includes competitiveness, enterprise, the communications and information industries and e-commerce. She is also now responsible for other areas, such as the bioscience, manufacturing, construction, steel and pharmaceutical industries.
Vadera is known as a "tough" operator. According to the Financial Times, she is sometimes referred to in Whitehall circles as "Shriti the Shriek".
Speaking at a BERR-sponsored event on high-speed broadband on Tuesday, Vadera's colleague Gareth Thomas MP praised Timms for "championing the need" for NGA, and said Vadera would continue Timms's "consensual approach" on the matter.