Focus: Whitehall profiles
Chancellor Gordon Brown is still smarting from being elbowed aside by Tony Blair in the contest to succeed John Smith as Labour leader.
Chancellor Gordon Brown is still smarting from being elbowed aside by Tony Blair in the contest to succeed John Smith as Labour leader.
The tension between the two men and the bitterness of the Dumfermline MP at having to lost out to the prime minister is clear to all in Westminster.
Since losing out in the Labour leadership contest in 1994, he has had a similar grudge against Northern Ireland secretary Peter Mandelson – a Blair favourite.
But despite this seething resentment towards his senior colleagues, Brown is considered to be the economic and ideological driving force behind the new Labour government.
Despite a pre-election reputation or dithering, he’s proved to be admirably decisive ‘iron chancellor’ in government starting by stunning the Treasury on his arrival by granting the Bank of England its independence and control over interest rates.
Having seen first hand in his constituency the damaging effect of unemployment, he has made getting people off welfare into work one of the government’s top priorities.
His other priority is keeping strict control of public spending and the economy until he is confident the country can increase spending on public services such as the NHS.
As an election winning strategy, it mirrors generations of Tory success and is a vast improvement on Labour’s old policy of spending freely when coming into office and launching into austerity just as the next polls loom.
Considered by many to be the socialist soul of the New Labour government, the 49-year-old recently softened his image by marrying long-term girlfriend Sarah Macauley – his first serious romantic involvement since a five-year affair with the impossibly romantic Princess Marquerite of Romania.
But colleagues are unsure how far this will change Brown, who is blind in one eye following a rugby injury and requires large-print versions of his major speeches in the House of Commons.
Despite a devastating wit displayed mainly in private of lacerating Commons speeches, he is considered by cabinet colleagues to be to stubborn and austere – as his unwillingness to budge on fuel duties illustrates.
But Brown has one central aim – to keep the Commons firmly on track to ensuring Labour’s second term and then to take over from Blair at some point after the election victory.
It would be fair to say that consumer and corporate affairs minister Kim Howells is one of the most lively-tongued and colourful ministers in government, writes Alex Miller.
The son of a communist lorry driver, he was born in November 1946 in Merthyr Tydfil and grew up on the council estates surrounding the town.
He has been married twice, and his career has been a true diversification of professions. He is recognised as a true man of the people cum intellectual, after working as a coalminer in Yorkshire and as a steelworker in Cardiff before entering politics.
Educated at Merthyr local primary and comprehensive schools, he moved to Cambridgeshire College of Art and Technology where he studied English history, before gaining his PhD at Warwickshire University.
Described as physically attractive in a ‘sort of battered way’, his peers would agree he is energetic and outspoken with a mischievous sense of fun.
His hobbies include rugby league – however a back injury cut short his playing days at the age of 33 – jazz, mountain and rock climbing and cycling.
Having written a thriller-style book, which has not yet been published, he has also made and released a film with Ken Follett.
He has been described as ‘a loose cannon who has learnt to control his mouth’ and is the MP for Pontypridd – the former heart of the south Wales mining industry, now home to a thriving hi-technology industry.
While Labour was in opposition, Howells served as a spokesman on Trade and Industry issues.
Although he may have mellowed slightly over the years, his roots are firmly embedded in the Marxist left wing and it has been said he is not a true ‘Blairite’. Others say he is an ‘educated John Prescott’.
He describes himself as ‘an old fashioned follower of Karl Marx and Adam Smith’.
An ambitious politician, it may just be that his lack of caution and willingness to speak his mind has slowed the advance of his career.
His active interest in politics started while he was a student, however he soon became disillusioned and moved to the communist party before leaving due to his dislike to their ‘lack of democracy’.
Soon after joining the Labour party in 1981, he was among those responsible for a motion to bring real ale to the bars in the House of Commons.
He joined the Public Accounts Committee in April 1991, enjoying a two year stint before leaving in 1993. But it wasn’t until three years later that his entry to the ‘in group’ of ministers probably came after he announced ‘socialism should be humanely phased out’.
Famously he moved into his current role after a time as higher education minister, when in 1997 he was moved sideways after admitting some colleges he had come across ‘were pretty dreadful’.
The story of Dawn Primarolo’s journey form left-wing firebrand to respected and trusted Treasury minister is a metaphor for New Labour, write our parliamentary staff.
When the former Avon county councillor entered the House of Commons in 1987 she was considered to be a loose cannon of the worse sort.
An ardent Bennite, she stunned the Labour hierarchy by beating former Labour chief whip Michael Cocks to become the candidate for Bristol South.
Her history of opposing police activity in the deprived St Paul’s area of Bristol in riots and getting right-winger Roger Scruton and Ray Honeford banned from speaking on the anniversary of the disturbances alarmed the powers that be.
Joining the hard left Campaign Group, demanding that Britain should leave Nato and abandon nuclear weapons, and describing the House of Commons as ‘Holloway Prison’ did little to reassure Labour’s high command.
Her somewhat unconventional private life did not help.
However Neil Kinnock spotted something within the MP known as ‘Red Dawn’ describing her as ‘very capable’.
She was something of a surprise choice for the opposition’s front bench.
But she quickly got her spurs being appointed to the Treasury team after the 1997 Labour landslide.
At first she was considered to be well out of her depth. Civil servants and ministerial colleagues complained of her inability to deal with complex ideas and detailed figures.
But chancellor Gordon Brown stuck with his surprising young protege.
And slowly opinions began to change.
Attractive and smartly-dressed, as she progressively got command of her brief she began to impress ministerial collegues.
By the time she was promoted to paymaster general there was little doubt that she was considered to be extremely competent and one of the safest pairs of hands since the Treasury team – and indeed the government.
Like so many Labour lefties before her, she became a pillar of the establishment.
But IR35 has shown just how tough she can be.
Despite the storms of protest she has stood by the policy and will lead the government through a judicial review of the new regulation. In an editorial for Accountancy Age this year she was defiant. ‘I believe we were right to act, not just in the interests of fairness to other taxpayers, but also in order to ensure measures in the tax system designed to support small businesses can be correctly targeted on people who are genuinely in business,’ she said.
And most of Westminster expect the 46-year-old mother of one to join the cabinet in a pre-election re-shuffle completing her odyssey from a bright socialist morning to a warm Blairite high noon.
If anyone was ever thrown into the lion’s den when they got their new job it was Nick Montagu, chairman of the Inland Revenue, writes Gavin Hinks.
Since being appointed in June 1997 Montagu has headed up at least five major headline projects for the Revenue, which has seen him thrust into the news and made him one of the most public of senior civil servants.
If nothing else he has become one of the most frequent names bandied around the nationals’ City diaries, an achievement even Gordon Brown has trouble matching.
Ask anyone about the head of the country’s tax collectors and they’ll tell they have rarely met someone so urbane as Nicholas Lionel John Montagu.
After going to Rugby School he was at New College Oxford where he was an assistant lecturer. Between 1969 and 1974 he was a lecturer in philosophy at Reading University before leaving the heady world of academe for the dusty environment of the civil service.
A spell followed at the Department of Health and Social Security from where he was seconded to the Cabinet office. He returned to Social Security where he eventually promoted to under secretary. Further promotion followed in 1990 to deputy secretary.
But in 1992 he transferred to the Department of Transport where, over the course of the following five years he oversaw the privatisation of the railways. If you want a civil servant to do a dirty job then Montagu is your man.
In 1997 he moved to the Cabinet where he was head of the Economic and Domestic Secretariat but he was there just weeks before he won, in open competition, his current post at the Revenue.
Appointed just after the 1997 Labour election victory , Montagu has spent nearly all his civil service under a Conservative regime. Despite implementing one of the Tory’s most controversial policies, he is said to, and claims to be, working well with Labour.
This is crucial when it comes to the government’s visions of the Revenue being a force for education and an ‘enabler’ of the tax system instead of being its policeman.
That cultural change is one which has gone against much of the conservative grain in senior civil service ranks, but Montagu is said to have ‘picked up the ball and run with it.’
And the government has shown faith in him. As head of the Revenue he has had to manage the introduction of Working Families Tax Credit, the Revenue’s policing of the minimum wage and the integration of the Contributions Agency into Revenue ranks. In addition the Revenue has launched the government’s first high volume online transaction service with self assessment and is currently managing a complete reorganisation of the Revenue’s regional offices.
Observers say he is a ‘superb handler of people’ and gifted when it comes to diplomatically dealing with the more conservative elements at the Revenue.
He is, it seems, well liked by all who meet him, even those who are desperate to convince the powers that be that the tax system is in need of urgent need of reform.
More than anything else his reputation as a confident and original public speaker is wide spread.
An accountant who has met him often says: ‘He is able to give a speech at the drop of a hat, with no notes and throwing in some references to Plato.’
Montagu’s sense of humour is enjoyed by many and it is perhaps telling that he is said to enjoy harmless gossiping.
SIR JOHN BOURN
The nation is eagerly awaiting the National Audit Office’s report on the chaotic financial arrangements that have surrounded the Dome.
Heading that report will be Sir John Bourn, the comptroller and auditor general of the United Kingdom, writes Philip Smith.
No stranger to controversy, the notoriously camera shy Sir John has steered the NAO to the position where it can legitimately say it is ‘helping the nation spend wisely’.
The report on the Dome should therefore make for interesting reading.
Sir John has been Comptroller and Auditor General since 1988, and became Auditor General of Wales in 1999.
A graduate of the London School of Economics, he has spent his working life in Whitehall, working in the Treasury, the Northern Ireland Office and at the Civil Service College.
Before taking over as the nation’s auditor he was deputy under secretary of state for defence procurement at the Ministry of Defence.
In its last annual report, Sir John proudly boasts that the NAO has saved the public purse #1.3bn over the last three years and that for every #1 spent by the Office, #8 has been saved.
The NAO audits all central government income and expenditure to the tune of #600bn, 660 accounts, and last year produced 50 major value for money audits looking in detail at how public money is spent.
But it seems that not everyone is impressed by such a performance.
During the summer, the House of Lords debated a renewed government bid to block Sir John from having unrestricted access to information on all quangos and other non-departmental government bodies. The bid was partly defeated by the narrowest of margins, bringing together a coalition of Tories, Liberal Democrats and cross-benchers.
While the non-departmental public bodies were to be spared the auditor’s eye, Sir John was granted access to any body to which a government department or quango had access.
At the time economic secretary Melanie Johnson claimed a widening of Sir John’s power would give him unrestricted access to everyone with whom the government dealt.
Given the NAO’s record on saving money, perhaps this would be no bad thing.
Earlier this year Sir John said: ‘The backdrop of all we do is of course our contribution to the accountability process. The audit regime provides a vital safeguard for taxpayers’ money. But we also make an enormous contribution by prompting improvements in the way public services are delivered.’
Sir John is determined to ensure the NAO keeps up with the electronic age, and the last year has seen a re-engineering of its audit approach to take advantage of modern technology.
As a sideline, Sir John sits on the Financial Reporting Council and since 2000 has been the chairman of the Review Board to which the long awaited Foundation oversight board for the accountancy profession will report.
The tough task of dragging the civil service from a Victorian cash accounting basis to modern day commercial-style system has taken the best part of a decade – but Professor Andrew Likierman, head of government accountancy, has overseen the controversial changeover with a firm and patient grip, writes Jerry Frank.
When reformer Likierman was appointed to replace Sir Alan Hardcastle at the Treasury department seven years ago, the issue of instilling resource accounting and budgeting had already been washing around cabinet for a couple of years.
Resource accounting is accrual accounting with objectives – outputs are reported separately, which effectively means the introduction of activity-based costing.
Likierman, who had been a full-time member of the Cabinet Office Central Policy review staff during the Callaghan years, took office with the express aim of putting modern accruals accounting into the civil service’s financial management and this year his goal edged towards completion.
The biggest shake-up of central government accounting since Gladstone introduced his system in 1866 has not been easy.
In June, the 46-year-old accountant appeared in front of the Public Accounts Committee where he was cross-examined on the dry run account disqualification for government departments, when he told MPs that for 1999/2000 only up to 15 out of 49 departments would meet the required standards.
Likierman argued that slow progress was down to the shock of the new methodology within government departments set in their ways, and reminded MPs that the test run allowed departments to iron out difficulties before resource accounting went live.
Worryingly for the service, Likierman revealed that a lack of experienced staff had hindered progress among many departments.
But Likierman is an untypical mandarin, who is noted for his honest, approachable and intellectually rigorous style.
Two years ago, he stuck to his guns despite concern that departments, such as the Ministry of Defence would not meet deadlines, and struck a typical tone of realism. ‘We’re not going to say that we’ll let the programme slip,’ he said. ‘We’re saying that the reality is that we just don’t know – we’re being prudent.’
That mix of intellect and practical skills have helped Likierman power his brainchild through deep-seated opposition and tradition, and has won him respect across the profession.
Married with three children, Oxford educated Likierman started his career as a divisional management accountant in the mid-1960s at Tootal before lecturing at the Department of Management Studies at the University of Leeds and the London Business School, where he is now a visiting lecturer.
Last month he was appointed to Lord Sharman’s review board to look at suitable arrangements for the audit and accountability of central government in the 21st century.
Before his appointment to the government accountancy service, Likierman worked as an advisor to a series of House of Commons Select Committees, including the Treasury for 10-years until 1991, employment from 1985 to 1990, and transport, social services and social security during the Thatcher years.
A management accountant as well as a chartered accountant, Likierman was president of CIMA from 1991 to 1992 and has been a member of the Accounting Standards Board since 1993.
A member of the Cabinet Office policy ‘think tank’, there has been recent speculation that Likierman would takeover when Sir David Tweedie steps down as chairman of the Accounting Standards Board at the end of this year.
He is a keen cyclist and choral singer with an interest in wine and architecture.
Publications he has written include Public Sector Accounting and Financial Control, Structure and Form of Government Expenditure Reports Public Expenditure and Ethics and Accountants in Industry and Commerce.
David Davis, chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, was once referred to as ‘a whip with a profile of rugby forward and the aggression of Schwarzenegger’ during the Major years, writes Michelle Perry.
His political drive and initiative helped him land the ‘best job in parliament’ for a party in opposition. ‘William Hague might not agree,’ jibes Davis.
Moving into politics in 1987 after a career as finance director and managing director at Tate & Lyle and its sister companies, he moved swiftly up the Tories political ladder starting as parliamentary private secretary to Francis Maude in 1988.
Davis, MP for Haltemprice and Howden, later became minister of state for the Foreign Office in 1994 – a post he held until the Conservatives ceded the reins of power to the Labour Party in 1997.
Unabashed at alienating the incumbent Tory leadership, he is renowned for championing the basic beliefs of the party, while urging a move away from ‘corrosive populism and over-reliance on focus groups’.
He is the most powerful Tory backbencher, according to numerous political writers, and his post as chairman of the most influential parliamentary select committee – the Public Accounts Committee – assures a high media profile for him.
The committee established in 1860 by former prime minister William Gladstone upholds the tradition that its chairman is a member of the opposition.
‘The chairman has to have ironclad impartiality,’ says Davis. Political commentators agree that despite Davis’ rightwing views, he has maintained the tradition of majority voting within the committee.
The Public Accounts Committee is responsible for reviewing the economic efficiency and effectiveness of public services with the ultimate goal of saving the taxpayer money.
It commissions investigations into public finances conducted by the National Audit Office – ‘the eyes and ears of parliament’ as Davis puts it – and produces around 50 reports a year.
From January to August this year, the committee produced 36 reports reviewing a broad scope of services ranging from the delivery of government IT projects, improving VAT assurance and the passport delays of the summer of 1999 to Ministry of Defence projects.
Although the committee wields no inherent power, the government implements around 90% of its recommendations.
‘What we do tends to not just save money, but drives the government to make better policy,’ he says.
The ‘revolution in public services’ means that the Public Accounts Committee is enjoying an even high profile and accountability.
Its meeting scheduled for November will focus the Conservative Party’s legacy and the Labour Party’s most controversial project to date – the Millennium Dome.