Youth has its fling in Brown's reshuffle

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Indy Politics

In a major reshuffle of the "thirtysomethings" in government, Gordon Brown has used the departure of Peter Hain to freshen the look of his Cabinet by promoting three young high-flyers to senior posts.

The three, who are close friends, are James Purnell, 37, who will take over the Work and Pensions portfolio from Mr Hain; Andy Burnham, 38, becomes Culture Secretary to replace Mr Purnell; and Yvette Cooper, 38, will succeed Mr Burnham as Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

Ms Cooper is being replaced as Housing minister by Caroline Flint, 46, who will attend the Cabinet.

All are regarded as Blairite modernisers and their promotions will be seen as a clear signal that Mr Brown is determined to press ahead with the public service reforming agenda inherited from the former prime minister.

The reshuffle also saw the return of Baroness Morgan, Tony Blair's former director of external relations at No 10. She becomes a whip and takes on an unpaid role as minister in the Lords for the Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills.

One half of Westminster's "Golden Couple", Ms Cooper is married to Mr Brown's former economics adviser, Ed Balls, now the Children's Secretary, and is regarded as "one of the family" by the Brownites.

As Housing minister, she impressed Mr Brown by spearheading the strategy for delivering three million new homes and with her enthusiasm for more eco-friendly new towns. She was fiercely criticised over the introduction of Home Information Packs. She is now facing her toughest test in charge of public spending at a time when budgets are being squeezed. It leaves the Treasury under the firm control of the Brownites.

Mr Brown also moved Baroness Vadera from International Development to the Business, Enterprise, and Regulatory Reform department to reassure business after the row with small businesses over capital gains tax. Lady Vadera, a publicity-shy former banker, was Mr Brown's most trusted official and Whitehall "enforcer" at the Treasury when he was chancellor.

The highly rated Liam Byrne, the Immigration minister, has been given three jobs – in addition to his role at the Home Office, and as minister for the West Midlands, he was also given a new responsibility at the Treasury as minister of state. It is understood he will be overseeing action by customs to fit with his immigration brief.

Mr Purnell was accused of faking a photo-call at a hospital while he was culture secretary. He turned up too late for a photo-shoot to promote a new development at a Tameside hospital, but his photograph was inserted with fellow MPs to look like he had been there.

He raised more controversy when he gave a strong hint that the BBC should share some of the funds it raises from the licence fee.

Mr Purnell entered Parliament in 2001 after serving as Mr Blair's special adviser on culture and rose quickly through the ministerial ranks. He was pensions reform minister in 2006 before being promoted by Mr Brown to the Cabinet last June.

But he faces his biggest challenge in a notoriously difficult department. Chris Grayling, his Tory shadow, said: "I hope he will be able to take a firm grip on a department that is clearly losing its way, with revelations in the last two weeks alone that national insurance numbers have been issued to illegal immigrants and personal data has been left on the roadside."

Mr Purnell's cabinet seat as Culture Secretary was handed to his close friend and former flatmate, Andy Burnham, a former special adviser to Chris Smith when he was culture secretary. He has been tipped one day for the leadership. As Chief Secretary to the Treasury, he will have tried to keep down the Culture Department's budget. But he must now see if he can cope with the allocation.

Who goes where

James Purnell

Was: Culture Secretary Now: Work and Pensions Secretary

Andy Burnham

was: Chief Secretary to the Treasury Now: Culture Secretary

Yvette Cooper

was: Housing minister Now: Chief Secretary to the Treasury

Caroline Flintwas

Work and Pensions minister now: Housing minister