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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
Montgomerie
. 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
chummy.

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?

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