Tom Richmond: Why Business Secretary Sajid Javid should make his job obsolete in name of efficiency

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MUCH now rests on the shoulders of Sajid Javid, the man who has been chosen to replace Vince Cable – the Mr Doom and Gloom of British politics – at the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills.

The son of an immigrant bus driver, the 45-year-old ticks a lot of boxes for the Conservative Party after David Cameron won an unexpected majority at last week’s election. His roots are working class – first in Rochdale where he was born and then Bristol where he grew up and went to a state school. But he’s self-made – he became a successful investment banker before entering the House of Commons five years ago in a West Midlands constituency.

He also embodies the aspiration agenda and can only help the Tories to reach out to voters from ethnic minorities, one cohort still be convinced by contemporary Conservativsm.

Even though the Prime Minister did not name Mr Javid as a potential successor when he signified that he would not seek a third term, I would not be surprised if he emerges as a leadership contender – Chancellor George Osborne might opt to step down at the same time as Mr Cameron; Home Secretary Theresa May has a tendency to come over as charmless and the bumbling Boris Johnson is never more than one sentence away from causing a diplomatic incident.

In the meantime, I hope Mr Javid will do enough to make the role of Business Secretary superfluous to requirements. Because the Tories did not foresee their win, they had given little time to the structure of government – and how the number of Whitehall ministries could be streamlined.

There is no reason for the Foreign Office and Department for International Development not merging – diplomacy and overseas aid are intrinsically linked. Ditto energy and the environment. And the same with the devolved nations – fear of a SNP backlash is the only reason why the Departments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have not been merged into a Ministry for the Nations.

This could also include the work undertaken by the Department of Communities and Local Government which will become obsolete if sufficient powers are devolved to English regions.

But why does the country need a Business Secretary, complete with an Employment Minister (Priti Patel) and Small Business Minister (Anna Soubry) amongst a cast of thousands at Cabinet meetings, when the Treasury – and role of Chancellor – is now so political thanks to Gordon Brown and, more recently, the aforementioned Mr Osborne?

Every Minister and MP on the Government’s benches should be a champion for British business, large and small, and it should not require a Whitehall department – with a budget of £13.7bn in the current financial year – to fulfil this remit at a time of spending restraint. When asked during the election whether he would appoint a specific Minister for Yorkshire, Mr Cameron declined because he said he wanted each and every colleague to champion this county. Yet, if this assertion is taken to its logical conclusion, the same should apply to business.

There should be no reason why the trade functions of the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills cannot be passed to the Treasury – with the Department for Education being given an enhanced skills remit.

As such, Mr Javid’s number one objective should be doing himself out of a job. For, if he succeeds, he will have earned the right to promotion – as either Britain’s first Chancellor or Prime Minister of Asian descent.

THEY will not admit it, but David Cameron and George Osborne will miss the moderating presence of Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander. Not only did these two Lib Dems work tirelessly to make the coalition function, but they held weekly meetings with the Prime Minister and Chancellor – part of a high-level executive committee known as a “quad” – to discuss issues facing the Government.

It remains to be seen how this void is filled. Some “toadies” will think that they are duty-bound to tell Mr Cameron and his right-hand man what they want to hear rather than what they need to be informed about. It is a subtle, but crucial difference.

IT might cost £8bn, but the Prime Minister should call the SNP’s bluff and give them full fiscal autonomy. According to those I know who are living north of the border, business confidence is at an all-time low and the more dynamic are looking to relocate to England to avoid anti-competitive taxes. If the SNP are not made accountable for spending, the final bill to UK taxpayers will be even greater if this sense of grievance and victimhood in Scotland becomes even more entrenched.

EVEN though they represent neighbouring West Yorkshire constituencies, the Labour leadership campaigns being mounted by Yvette Cooper and Mary Creagh could not be more different.

Ms Cooper – otherwise known as Mrs Ed Balls – is maintaining the pretence that the last Labour government did not overspend. She had no choice, she was Chief Secretary to the Treasury from January 2008 until June 2009. In contrast Ms Creagh began her pitch in enemy territory – the Daily Mail – by declaring her respect for small businesses. She might the lesser-known name but she has the clearer grasp of finance.

Meanwhile I’m surprised Labour’s scare-mongering health spokesman Andy Burnham is standing for the leadership. He sought to turn the election into a referendum on the NHS and lost. I have two words for him: Mid Staffs.

AS Ukip questions Nigel Farage’s unedifying leadership, perhaps the party would still like to explain why campaign posters were still nailed to the trees by the entrance and exit to Rawdon Crematorium in Leeds one week after polling day. It was tactless to erect them there in the first place – and even more tactless to leave them in situ for so long.

ONE final election thought – I bet Tory activists are glad they were not caught out by Andrew Strauss who was being touted as a Parliamentary candidate. Judging by his mismanagement of the England and Wales Cricket Board after just one week in charge, they’ve had a lucky escape.

FORGIVE some self-indulgence, but I was quite proud of myself the other day after swimming 1,500m non-stop. I was obviously inspired by the plaque at the entrance to Aireborough Leisure Centre commemorating the fact that Olympic heroes Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee began their careers in this pool. And then it dawned on me – they swim the same distance in a third of the time before cycling at least 40km and then running 10km to the finish of the triathlon. No wonder they are already regarded as two of the greatest icons of Yorkshire sport. They truly are super-human.

tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk

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