There is “clear room for improvement” if the business voice is to be heard in Whitehall, the department for business said on Thursday, in an admission its predecessor, the Department of Trade and Industry, failed to wield enough influence in the corridors of power.
The Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, created by Gordon Brown to replace the DTI, unveiled a new logo, alongside a prime ministerial remit to represent employers’ concerns within government.
“There is much that we need to do and to do more effectively than in the past,” said the three-year strategy document . It said the department had inherited from the DTI “a track record of success in working across Whitehall but also clear room for improvement”.
John Hutton, business secretary, is setting up a 25-strong team to “ensure the business voice is heard on priority issues across government”, with officials charged with improving lobbying of Whitehall colleagues in six areas: tax, innovation, skills, migration, planning and transport. Department staff will undergo coaching to “develop their influencing skills”, as well as a “business awareness learning programme”, the document revealed.
But business, while welcoming the department’s new advocacy role, is likely to question how effective it will prove in practice. Mr Hutton’s stewardship has been marked by pre-Budget report changes to capital gains tax that have provoked an intense business backlash.
The tax row suggests the new department may struggle to overcome the Whitehall problem that dogged the DTI – the concern, frequently voiced by leading business organisations, that it lacked the clout to stand up to the chancellor.
The department’s launch of its new strategy was on Thursday marred by confusion, when it initially denied to the FT any knowledge of the document, despite the Tories having already criticised it. An official later said the 52-page glossy brochure was “very much more of an internal message, which is why there’s been no press release . . . it’s not outward facing”. Alan Duncan, shadow business secretary, lambasted the department’s “dismaying incompetence”, saying: “They consider this their crucial mission statement and they don’t even know they’ve published it.”
The strategy came under the same kind of attack that befell the DTI’s numerous attempts to redefine its guiding principles. Mr Duncan argued that business could be “expected to feel concerned at the vacuity of this document”. It contained “no vision, no policies, no clues on how to tackle the rising burdens on business or solving our long-term energy needs”.
An aide to Mr Hutton said Mr Duncan “would do well to concentrate more on addressing the absurd incoherence at the heart of his party’s attitude to business”.
“The Tories have become a laughing stock with businesses . . . by lurching to the right in front of the party faithful while proposing unworkable new burdens on business to convince the public they have changed.”
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