GREG CLARK is widely regarded as one of the Cabinet’s more able ministers. As Business Secretary, he has developed an Industrial Strategy that reflects his humble upbringing in Middlesbrough – his father and grandfather were both milkmen – and the importance of rebalancing the national economy in favour of the North.
Yet, as the head of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, it primarily falls to Mr Clark, and his team, to carefully manage Britain’s exit from the European Union so that disruption to companies is minimised and the foundations of the economy are not put at even greater risk.
As The Yorkshire Post stressed when Britain voted in June 2016 to leave the EU, Brexit will have the best chance of succeeding if the brightest and best people from business – and other spheres of public life – are brought together to make the transition as smooth as possible.
Nearly two years after the landmark vote, and less than 12 months until the UK departs the EU, today’s report by Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee does not inspire confidence. Not only does it question the calibre of staff who have been recruited by Mr Clark’s department – the inference is that they lack the necessary “level of experience and expertise” – but it will struggle to pass the necessary laws within the time constraints.
This is not unsurprising given the continuing battle of Parliamentary wills over whether Britain should remain part of the customs union – no preparation was made for all eventualities before David Cameron called the 2016 referendum.
But it does reflect badly on the Civil Service. Once revered around the world for its authority and ability to guide ministers, it appears to have become a diminished force at a time when its expertise is most needed. For, if the Brexit transition and implementation goes awry, the whole country will be paying the price, hence why Mr Clark – and others – need to take on board today’s report and act accordingly before it is too late.