. Introducing ... British Government Plc | London Progressive Journal
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Introducing ... British Government Plc

Sun 19th Dec 2010

That the present Con-Dem government is one of the most viciously retrogressive in our history hardly needs restating. However, what is perhaps more perturbing is the way it is drafting in big business to take direct control of government. Previous governments have always used outside advisors, but under New Labour the increased incorporation of unelected advisors took off and Cameron has now taken it to new heights.

The government announced a major shake-up in Whitehall, bringing in senior British business executives to the heart of the civil service as ministers can’t move fast enough to get them on board to help them cut public spending. These are the very people who stand to profit from privatisation and are keen to get their claws on lucrative public sector contracts.

Former BP boss Lord Browne was appointed as the government's lead non-executive director in June and he, together with Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude, has been instrumental in bringing in these new business appointees.

These business heavyweights have been appointed as non-executive directors to beef-up boards of government departments to help the coalition implement its so-called efficiency drive. For the first time, these boards will be able to pressure the prime minister to sack permanent secretaries, the most senior civil servants, if they fail to fulfil their mandates, such as meeting departmental budget targets.

Francis Maude the, Cabinet Office minister, summed it up: "We are making it quite explicit that where permanent secretaries fail to properly implement government programmes, non-executives will be able to ask for their dismissal." I’m no friend of civil servants nor do buy in to their supposed ‘neutrality’, but allowing leading capitalists to determine which civil servants should be sacked is a corruption of public service.

Among the new non-executives appointed to the boards of 11 departments are Andrew Witty, chief executive of the pharmaceuticals firm GlaxoSmithKline, who goes to the business department; Sam Laidlaw, head of Centrica, parent company of British Gas, who will join the Department for Transport, and Sara Weller, chief executive of the Argos catalogue chain, who will be go to the Department for Communities and Local Government. These appointees are drawn from some of the most powerful companies in the country. Others come fleet-footed from management consultants McKinsey; Tate & Lyle, BP, mining company Rio Tinto and Tata Steel, the private health company Bupa and the Financial Times among them.

David Cameron has already given key roles to several leading executives, including Stephen Green, former HSBC chief, who has been named trade minister and tax-avoider, Sir Philip Green, boss of Top Shop.

In a pusillanimous response, Jon Trickett, Labour shadow minister for the Cabinet Office, said: "Business people can bring to government new and interesting ideas about management, the public sector can always learn from other sectors – including the voluntary sector. But if there is a sub-text of privatisation of Whitehall then it should be resisted."

Lord Browne, former BP boss was appointed as the government's lead non-executive director in June. His brief is to help Maude overhaul the way departments are run, and improve governance across Whitehall. Browne was forced to leave BP in 2007 after lying in court about a gay relationship. His position at BP was also jeopardised following a fatal explosion at BP’s Texas City oil refinery in 2005.

These are not the last of such business appointments - only 11 departments of Whitehall's 24 have announced the names of their new non-executives. There has been some opposition from civil servants to some of these appointments and a problem in finding candidates for some roles. The non-executives will be paid £15,000, although some are, apparently, waiving the salary. Not a bad deal for attending meetings for between 12 and 15 days a year. I’m sure there are plenty of newly unemployed public service workers out there who would jump at the offer of such an easy job.

The Cabinet Office said the non-executive board members will help steer responsibility for strategic and operational leadership for each government department and for agreeing each department’s three-year rolling business plan. They will also provide advice and support to ministers and civil servants, challenge discussions and discuss any performance issues with Lord Browne and the Prime Minister.

Maude defends it by arguing: "We are doing everything we can to ensure that the centre of government operates as efficiently as possible … Today's names include business heavyweights with huge experience and they will play a key role in helping departments rise to the challenge and deliver further savings. Previously, we have paid millions of pounds to consultants for this kind of advice.” He has also announced savings made under his efficiency programme, which include renegotiating contracts with major suppliers and a strict moratorium in five key areas of discretionary spend: consulting, ICT, recruitment, marketing and property. Nothing like employing former poachers as gamekeepers is there?

The non-executives:

Business department Andrew Witty, chief executive of GlaxoSmithKline; Julia King*, vice-chancellor of Aston University; accountant Brian Woods-Scawen

Cabinet Office Lord Browne; Ian Davis, ex-MD of McKinsey; Rona Fairhead, chief executive of the Financial Times Group; Dame Barbara Stocking, chief executive of Oxfam

Communities and Local Government Sara Weller, managing director of Argos; Stephen Hay

Department for Culture, Media and Sport David Verey, investment banker

Department for Education Anthony Salz, lawyer and a former BBC vice-chairman; John Nash; Theodore Agnew; Sue John

Department for Environment Iain Ferguson, ex-Tate & Lyle chief executive.

Home Office Val Gooding, former chief of Bupa; Philip Augur, author of The Death of Gentlemanly Capitalism

Department for International Development Vivienne Cox, former BP renewables boss; Doreen Langston

Ministry of Justice Jim Leng, chairman-designate of Rio Tinto; ex-top civil servant Dame Sue Street; Anne Bulford*; David MacLeod

Department for Transport Sam Laidlaw, chief executive of Centrica; Sally Davis*, Ed Smith

HM Treasury Baroness Hogg, former head of Sir John Major's policy unit; Sir Callum McCarthy, former FSA chairman

John Green also writes for www.mappingutopia.co.uk.
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