Exporting out of recession - Business and Enterprise Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-39)


23 FEBRUARY 2009

  Q20  Chairman: The headline on your own story in The Daily Mail a week ago was: "Gordon Brown says that he will create 100,000 jobs. One in four will be shelf-stackers". It was a slightly unfair summary of your article but it was the way your article could easily be interpreted.

  Lord Jones of Birmingham: I write an article about my findings around the country on where the jobs are being created. That is a true statistic but it is not the thrust of the article. But, you know, we live in the real world. It is no good bleating about it; we have to go and do something about it.

  Q21  Chairman: It is a bit last chance saloon stuff, is it not? You said, "Unless the Government takes bold steps right now to preserve jobs, skills and factories, we could blight an entire generation with long-term unemployment".

  Lord Jones of Birmingham: Yes.

  Q22  Chairman: You think the stakes are quite high.

  Lord Jones of Birmingham: I do. I do not know if you saw that programme a week today. There is a chap called Colin, he is 19 years old, and he has just been made redundant by Nissan up in the North East. He did everything that people like you and I would expect: school, training programme at a quality, long-term investing Japanese company, and he hits 19 and, rightly, for proper reasons, no blame on Nissan, they make him redundant. His father has been unemployed for 10 years. He comes from a family, as many of his friends' families will be, of long-term unemployment. Is it not better to say: Colin, you make a bit of a sacrifice; Nissan, you make a bit of a sacrifice; and you and I, Chairman, our taxes will make a bit of a sacrifice? Then, when the upturn comes and people are buying the quality stuff that Nissan make around the world, Colin's job is not only preserved, his skills are preserved, and the guy is not going to be what he is in danger of being, another statistic of long-term unemployment in the North East. Is that not a better investment of my money than, frankly, in six months time paying £2,500 to an employer to get him back into work when he should not have been going out in the first place?

  Q23  Chairman: There is a policy precedent in the UK for it, I believe. This kind of policy has been followed in the past in this country.

  Lord Jones of Birmingham: I think it was followed in the 1981 recession.

  Q24  Chairman: Yes, it was.

  Lord Jones of Birmingham: I was only a glint in my daddy's eye then, Chairman! No, I was not—I was a lawyer in Birmingham then.

  Q25  Chairman: You were indeed. Let us move on to the main subject. You were a minister for 16 glorious months—which does not sound very long to some of us, but, equally, you and I know it is quite a long time for a minister in any department of state.

  Lord Jones of Birmingham: 45 overseas visits in that time.

  Q26  Chairman: Yes, I have a list of them at the back of my brief. You have expressed your views about the Civil Service to another select committee earlier on, but what difference do you think you make in those 16 months? What did you achieve?

  Lord Jones of Birmingham: In no order of priority. An uplift in the morale of UKTI. I wanted them to strut their stuff a bit more around Whitehall, and to see themselves with a little bit more of the arrogance that the Foreign Office and the Treasury tend to do, because at the end of the day they are as important as any of them, because without the UKTIs of this world then it is more difficult for companies to create wealth. If they do not create it, they do not pay tax. If they do not pay tax, you do not get schools and hospitals. It is not rocket science.

  Q27  Chairman: So morale. Does it help to say: "I was amazed how many people, frankly, deserved the sack ..." Does it help to say that kind of thing in terms of people's morale?

  Lord Jones of Birmingham: I actually did not say that.

  Q28  Chairman: It is a direct quote.

  Lord Jones of Birmingham: No, I actually did not say that. I know it is quoted. I actually said that I was amazed how many people "it was not possible to sack". And it is different. But can I just say that my remarks were not entirely tailored to UKTI.

  Q29  Chairman: Ah! UKTI is exempt from this general critique.

  Lord Jones of Birmingham: No, no. There would be people there who, in a perfect world, you would have moved on in a different way from the way they are moved on in the Civil Service. But the one thing was the lift in morale and to get them to understand that they mattered far more in government than they felt they did. Linked to that, it came as something of a surprise to the Department of Business & Enterprise when I announced that I wanted to go and put my office physically in the department that I was in charge of, because no other minister had done that before, they had all been up at the Department of Business. One civil servant said, "Why do you want to do that?" and I said, "Because if we are going to change the way they do this and we going to get the morale up, then the boss should be in amongst them with his sleeves rolled up". They said, "No, if you want them, they will come to you". That, to me, was not the way you lead and it was not the way you try to effect change.

  Q30  Chairman: To be fair, you were a dedicated trade minister. Previous ministers had had other jobs.

  Lord Jones of Birmingham: Certainly.

  Q31  Chairman: You did not.

  Lord Jones of Birmingham: Sure.

  Q32  Chairman: You had the luxury of being just the minister.

  Lord Jones of Birmingham: The Prime Minister asked me to do the job differently and he kept his word to me on the way that I did it and I kept my word to him in doing it.

  Q33  Chairman: You have talked about morale, but you did say in another quote I have from your appearance before the Public Administration Committee, "... the job could be done with half as many".

  Lord Jones of Birmingham: I did definitely say that.

  Q34  Chairman: Was that about UKTI as well?

  Lord Jones of Birmingham: I think if you change the system of government in the way that initiatives and policies are delivered, then it would be possible to deliver on policy with half as many. I picked half, but I am not saying half, it is just a term—but substantially fewer people.

  Q35  Chairman: Are you saying that if we are to get this country exporting out of recession, you could do it with fewer people?

  Lord Jones of Birmingham: Not if you had the current system. You would need to change the Foreign Office as well. You could not just do it on UKTI. The one thing I saw as a happy difference between when I started at the CBI in 2000 and when I was UKTI minister in 2007-08 was how more business attuned and wealth-creating attuned the Foreign Office had become, very much more in tune with promoting British goods, services, companies around the world. I thought that was fabulous to see, it was a happy thing to see. You asked me what else. Because of the nature of the way that we run our political system, (a) you had, as you say Chairman, my predecessors trying to do another job as well, and (b) they tend to be democratically elected and they tend to sit in the House of Commons and they have to be there. That is entirely inconsistent with being able to be overseas banging the drum and promoting Britain—which is what I did—and it is extremely difficult to do both the job of a political career, wanting advancement, wanting to be in the beltway, wanting to be seen around doing the job in Westminster, and also being in some far-flung market for British business. The job was done differently by me in that respect, and I think it would be fair to say that the posts around the world and the businesses that I promoted thought that that job was done reasonably well. I do not say that to criticise my predecessors because they (a) had other responsibilities and (b) were having to be back to vote.

  Q36  Chairman: This is an important point, because this Committee has expressed concern at this in the past. This is not an attack on the current Prime Minister by colleagues; it is a problem for all prime ministers. Presidents, like the President of France, find it easier to tour the world and fly the flag. The system makes that easier for them.

  Lord Jones of Birmingham: I am glad you said this, because it could be levelled at any prime minister of this country. If you are up against Sarkozy, if you are up against Bush, as it was in my case—now it would be after Obama, if you are up against Merkel—and these are quality countries with quality companies wanting the support of the boss of the country—it is easier for them to travel than it is a British prime minister. The system in this country militates against promoting the ability for this country to trade its way out of its current problems.

  Q37  Chairman: So a high profile trade minister would help.

  Lord Jones of Birmingham: Yes.

  Q38  Chairman: When you went, you were not immediately replaced.

  Lord Jones of Birmingham: No.

  Q39  Chairman: Lord Mandelson first of all said he would do the job himself.

  Lord Jones of Birmingham: Yes.

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