Coffee House

Corporatism, comms and civil servants

23 September 2011

9:01 AM

23 September 2011

9:01 AM

David Cameron renewed his calls for global action for growth last night and it seems that the work begins at home. The Times reports (£) that 50 of Britain’s largest companies will be given direct access to ministers and officials. Corporate
bodies will be designated an “account director”, who, despite what that title might suggest, is a cabinet minister rather than a junior advertising exec. The scheme is not yet
finalised, but it seems that the labour will be divided thus:

‘Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, will act as what officials are calling “an account director” to Britain’s oil and gas giants Shell, BP and BG. David Willetts,
the Universities and Science Minister, will be the contact for the life science companies GlaxoSmithKline, Novartis and Astro Zeneca. General Electric will be paired with Lord Green.

Jeremy Hunt, the Culture Secretary, will deal with information and communication technology companies. Mark Prisk, the Business and Enterprise Minister, will deal with automotive companies
active in the UK, including Jaguar Land Rover owned by Tata, Toyota, Nissan, Honda, General Motors and BMW, as well as aerospace companies.

Lord Sassoon, the former investment banker who is Commercial Secretary to the Treasury, will also play a role.’

Civil servants are apparently concerned about the message this sends to small businesses, a reservation shared by Tim
. In broader terms, corporatism can be just as damaging as recalcitrant unionism. As Lord Young of Graffham, Mrs Thatcher’s fireman, wrote during the Thameslink contract furore, the British economy needs to be competitive rather than

However, this initiative reveals that the government still believes the cumbersome civil service to be an unwitting  “enemy of enterprise”, a frequent complaint among ministerial
aides. A hotline to the Sage of Twickenham may count for little in the grand scheme of things, but at least it bypasses Sir Humphrey. Today, the Public Administration Committee releases a report finding that
"institutional inertia and complacency" in Whitehall is impeding reform. As economic gloom descends and domestic reform falters, the question is how to restore the Whitehall Rolls Royce
to its former glory?

Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.

Show comments
  • I S

    Mindblowing. These massive giants already have all the access they need.
    It is SMEs that need help if any real, meaningful growth is to come about. However, we are seen as cash cows to be milked dry by both local and national government.

  • Dimoto

    Hmmm, lots of derisive sound and fury on here.

    It’s all a bit redundant isn’t it ?
    The Davos scam has been routinely allowing politicians and big corporates to schmooze and exchange telephone numbers for years, without any objection here, or elsewhere.

    Despite Adam Smith’s famous warning.

  • Rhoda Klapp

    Well, that was pretty much unanimous. Don’t they have a process to weed out policy decisions which are not only stupid, brain-bogglingly stupid, but offensive to any reasonable person? (Rhetorical question, of course)

  • FvH

    @Andrew Zalotocky – many thanks – although audio was none too good – think Madsen needs to stump up for a better microphone!!!

    @In2Minds – could well be unless we start to see some serious reforms actually completed rather than yet more eloquent speeches and piddling around (like this corporatist nonsense)

  • London Calling

    And a hotline to God…only don’t expect any miracles….:)

    I would have thought that any corporate executive wanting direct communication with said minister, could easily phone and speak to said Minister…

    Hello is that BP

    Vince, you know the rules, we ring you, you don’t ring us ok
    Yes I know but something really important has come up

    I don’t care, unless its oil, get lost
    Actually it is about oil, lots of it, under our very feet…

    Ah, now were talking, I’ll let it go this time, but in future remember
    You work for us, arrange a meeting and we’ll discuss it over dinner…

    Phone line goes dead…


  • Michael Taylor

    This is absolutely outrageous. The Conservative party either believes in the free market, or it doesn’t. If it does, its every instinct should rebel against this wretched corporatism. What the heck is the matter with these people?

  • Puncheon

    If you live long enough you see everything twice, at least. So now we have our suspicions confirmed – Cameron and gang really are Wilson-Heath re-born. The fact is that big business is no more intersted in competition than politicians are intersted in democracy. But what they are both very interested in is monopoly. Big business wants to supress/destroy SMEs, just as the big political parties want to do the same to non-mainstream political parties/entities. Everyone knows that the real job of the big company chairman is to run off to a cabinet minister asking for favours whenever anything goes wrong. Tis is exactly the mindset that has destroyed British industry during my lifetime. It’s refreshing to see that our wonderful wizzkid politicians have learned precisely nothing from the last 70/80 years. Go for it Dave’nNick, you could just manage to complete the job so ably started and developed by MacMillan, Wilson, Heath, Blair and Brown. I’m grateful to have seen the apotheosis of government by cliche.

  • Baron

    Now, that’s going to crack the nut for sure, the big boys with worldwide presence will create jobs where the cost of labour is the lowest, they have the bottom line to look after, looking after employment here ain’t in their terms of reference, the only visible outcome will be Red Ed’s exploiting the exercise, pointing to the close ties between the Government, big business.

    Our future, if we are to have a future, lies with the SMEs, new ideas, high value added, global reach and stuff. Unshackle those from high taxes, bureaucratic paperwork, the ealth and safety…., then we may have a chance

  • Steve Tierney

    Even with the best of intentions, of which I have no doubt – It still sounds like corporatism.

  • Publius

    Very Ted Heath.

  • In2minds

    @FvH – “things are desperate and are just about to get a whole lot worse” –

    Do you mean the ‘white heat’ of voter anger and withdrawal of support for Cameron & Co?

  • Andrew Zalotocky

    This initiative does send a clear message to small businesses and it ends with “off”. Government by arrogant paternalist toffs and corporatism, are we going back to the 1950s?

    FvH, for some depressing thoughts on how bad things might get see:

  • michael

    Big business …. well that,s where the donations, directorships, and after dinner fees are to be had-
    I note with interest that ‘vested’ civil servants will share none of the moral encumbrances that seems to severely inconvenience those who are elected.

  • FvH

    What a load of Corporatist, state interfering cack

    This is like something Harold Wilson would have dreamed up

    Does anybody else get the feeling that things are desperate and are just about to get a whole lot worse

  • Ian Walker

    Isn’t this just formalising an arrangement that we all know exists in practice anyway?

    I wonder if Shell will be asked to pay their tax bill as part of the conversations?

  • Andy H

    This is exactly what happens when a bunch of career politicians are in charge.

    As they have never operated in the real world, they have no idea of how things actually work.

    That is why we end up with the Equality Bill etc that brings us unsustainable laws and regulations.

    The best thing that these people can do is get out of the way, reduce tax by getting rid of the daft 50% rate, reduce Employers NI contributions and make it easy to hire and fire.

    Until they realise that the private sector is the life blood of the country then economic growth will stagnate.

  • Maddy1

    Global Action from Cameron, the Malaysians and others were persuaded on to the “westway” runaway train, via the orgy of using their natural resources at a level that would have made even Swettenham and Rhodes, blush. The Asians think they are immune and this is a common or garden fiscal meltdown like their own of a decade past.

  • In2minds

    @TomTom – You are right. This plan by gormless Dave won’t solve a thing.

    Also – “50 of Britain’s largest companies” – This goes back to Bombardier, often and wrongly described as a British company, it is Canadian owned.

    And – “to restore the Whitehall Rolls Royce to its former glory”? Rolls Royce is owned by the Germans, so don’t do that!

    Rather like Tata and Corus this plan will simply give money away to foreign companies, but then Vince will enjoy that.

  • Bruce, UK

    Voters? Taxpayers? The “Little People”? What have they got to do with anything?

    Can’t they see we have a cartel to run?

  • Rhoda Klapp

    Hooray, for our biggest companies always know what is best for us, and can tell the politicians. No need for our involvement at all, and all those smal or medium sized companies, well, whatever is best for the big ones willl OBVIOUSLY be best for them too. A little more regulation, sir? Yes please!

  • Axstane

    Looks as though Lord Sassoon gets the bankers.

  • Peter Smith 1

    Coincidentally, I wrote yesterday (see link) about the Commercial Interchange scheme the Cabinet Office is running, where civil servants and business execs are going to work in each others’ organisations for a period. There are pros and cons, just like this new initiative, but it is hard to see how it doesn’t discriminate against smaller or non-incumbent potential suppliers to Government. I look forward to the first legal challenge where a big government contract has gone to a “Minister’s mate” rather than a firm on the outside..

  • Alex

    Incredibly stupid. A great example of Regulatory Capture.
    Imagine you are a dynamic small enterprise trying to compete with one the large companies named above. They have got a hotline to a minister. You have got nothing. I guess you either move abroad or give up.
    Who stands for small businesses in this country? The Tories only like big ones, Labour hate them all, and the Lib Dems, as far as I can see, ignore them.

  • TomTom

    Typical. Look after the party donors ! It is SMEs that create jobs and generate growth not corporate oligopolies which stifle growth and fix prices.

    These large corporates have caused much of the problem by destroying small and medium-sized companies and fixing distribution channels.

    Typical though for Corporatism to be in the form of Multinationals + Banks to create the New Fascist Era

  • JohnPage

    A hotline to Vince. That should cheer them up.