Mining along the west coast of Cumbria goes back to at least the 1600s, and this summer the local community awaited a crucial government decision on whether a new deep coalmine operation would be given the go-ahead.

While proponents of the £165m deep coalmine near Whitehaven say it would create jobs and help power the UK’s steel industry, environmental campaigners say it would undermine the government’s commitment to meeting climate targets.

On the eve of the keenly awaited announcement, Boris Johnson faced a cabinet mutiny. An email was sent out at about 3.30pm that day, saying the decision had been postponed. A few hours later, Michael Gove, the levelling up secretary who was to make the decision, was sacked. One is now due later this month, but no one is holding their breath.

“We don’t have a functioning government,” said Kate Willshaw, policy officer of Friends of the Lake District, which is opposing the plan for the UK’s first deep coalmine in 30 years. “Nothing is done on time. It’s chaos.”

The upheaval and delay in the department is reflected across Whitehall as the country is forecast to slide into one of its worst economic crises. Civil servants have had to contend with mass ministerial resignations, a lame duck prime minister and a protracted leadership campaign.

An analysis by the Observer reveals that in more than half of the government’s key departments, ministerial announcements have been pulled at short notice, legislation has stalled and deadlines have been missed on the publication of policy documents.

One of those was a white paper with proposals to reform gambling laws. It was due this summer but has now been postponed. The charity Gambling with Lives, which supports and campaigns for families affected by gambling-related suicide, attacked the decision, warning that “tens of thousands more people will be harmed and some will die”.

A fixed-odds betting machine
Proposals to reform gambling laws have been shelved, which could lead to more suicides among gambling addicts. Photograph: Islandstock/Alamy

New legislation for an online safety bill to protect children has also been paused until a new government is in place. The bill’s aims are to prevent the spread of illegal content, including images of child abuse, terrorist material and hate crimes.

The NSPCC, the child protection charity, said last week that it was concerned the delay could result in the bill being watered down despite years of failed self-regulation by the giant tech firms. Sir Peter Wanless, the NSPCC chief executive, said: “There can be no more important mission for government than to keep children safe from abuse, and the next prime minister must deliver the online safety bill as a national priority.”

At the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the employment bill first promised in December 2019 appears to have been shelved. It was intended to introduce flexible working, better support working families with childcare and enhance workers’ rights after Brexit.

The department has also delayed an enterprise strategy aimed at boosting private investment and encouraging entrepreneurship. Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, hoped to deliver the plan in early 2022, but the Financial Times reported earlier this year that work has been “paused” on the strategy.

There was criticism of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs earlier this year for failing to introduce several promised bills to protect wildlife and the environment. They include plans to ban the use of peat in horticulture to protect precious peatland habitats and meet net zero targets.

At the Department of Health and Social Care, rules banning multibuy deals on food and drinks high in fat, salt or sugar have been delayed for a year, in light of the “global economic situation”. At HM Treasury, a review of alcohol duty is now not expected until the autumn.

At the Home Office, a review by the former Charity Commission chairman William Shawcross of the Prevent scheme, which aims to stop people being drawn into terrorism, has still not been published – despite the terms of reference stating it would be submitted to parliament by 31 December 2021. It is believed the review was submitted to the Home Office at least three months ago

Thangam Debbonaire, the shadow Commons leader, said: “As if crashing the economy wasn’t enough, Boris Johnson’s zombie government is asleep at the wheel whilst the country grinds to a halt. The Conservatives non-governing government is delaying major projects, missing deadlines and yet again failing to deliver on the promises they made.”

A government spokesperson said it “should be judged on its actions delivering for the British people. The prime minister remains focused on driving forward his commitments to the public.”

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