Most of the staff working for Shriti Vadera, the business minister, in her private office have quit this year and have had to be replaced, the Financial Times has found.
The Tories say the churn rate of employees raised “serious questions” about one of Gordon Brown’s closest allies.
Figures released by the government to the FT under the Freedom of Information Act show that 10 people worked in the six permanent positions in Baroness Vadera’s private office between her appointment as business minister in January and her move in last month’s reshuffle to a shared role between the cabinet office and department for business.
Officials in a private office work very closely with the minister, running their diary and providing a bridge to Whitehall. Lady Vadera, a former investment banker at UBS Warburg turned Treasury adviser before being brought into government by Mr Brown last year, holds a highly influential position at the heart of government.
Alan Duncan, the shadow business secretary, told the FT the turnover of her private office staff reinforced the Westminster image of a woman nicknamed “Shriti the Shriek” for her ability to reduce junior officials to tears and tear a strip off more senior colleagues.
“We keep hearing dreadful stories about how she treats people,” said Mr Duncan. “If this was happening in the private sector, the board of directors would have serious questions to ask.”
Business, however, sprang to her defence, saying that an ability to cause ructions in Whitehall was a sign of her effectiveness.
“She’s respected by the business community, who are not the biggest fans of our great civil service,” said Stephen Alambritis, head of parliamentary affairs at the Federation of Small Businesses. “Yes, she’s making waves, she’s a hard task master, but when you say that to business representatives, they say, ‘Good on her, and she should be supported.’ ”
Lady Vadera has described her relationship with the civil service as “challenging”, saying: “For me, the important thing has always been a focus on getting the job done . . . I am, I am sure, challenging because of that.”
The department for business said it was “natural in [a] private office for there to be some turnover of staff as positions tend to be 12-18 month posts”.
Two of the staff who left Lady Vadera’s office were contract workers, rather than full-time civil servants, said an official.