E-scooters at a crossroads
E-scooters at a crossroads

Posts Tagged ‘Sir Philip Rutnam’

Labour and the Civil Service – Access Talks

So, access has been granted. One of the rituals of the run up to a British General Election can begin: the private, official talks between the Opposition and the Civil Service, which allow both sides to prepare for a possible change of Government.

When access should happen is down to the Prime Minister, and Rishi Sunak’s decision last week means he has already cut things fine for his opponents compared to some past Elections (2010 for example). But what happens in access talks, and do they actually matter?

To start with one thing that shouldn’t happen: don’t expect a running commentary in the press. Both civil servants and the Opposition are told to keep the discussions confidential, and past experience suggests this is one convention still observed. There are powerful incentives for secrecy: for Labour, it’s about message discipline running up to the Election; and for civil servants, it’s about building the confidence of your likely future employers.

It also helps to keep things secret when only a few people are involved. And this brings me to the first point about how access talks actually work: they’re tightly controlled and only a few people know what’s happening. For Labour they’ll be overseen by Sue Gray, and I think that will mean an even tighter and more disciplined process than usual.

Sue’s opposite number in Government is her former boss and Cabinet Secretary Simon Case, who’s now back at work. The first job for Sue and Simon will be to agree to some ground rules. One rule, for example, may be that a member of Keir Starmer’s office has to be present at every meeting. Only when the rules are settled will the shadow Secretaries of State and departmental Permanent Secretaries start talking to each other.

I was involved in access talks running up to four Elections from 2010 to 2019. My experience was they were taken very seriously by both sides and they actually mattered. These were discussions right at the top – between the shadow Secretary of State, the Permanent Secretary and just a few others on each side. They were an opportunity for the politicians to ask lots of questions about the department and the real challenges it faced, and for both sides to discuss the practical implications of big new policies. Above all, of course, it meant the senior people could get to know each other. On the official side the people involved were all very senior, DGs or above plus one (senior) link person, and the Opposition team was similar.

So given the secrecy and small number of people involved, what should businesses and other organisations with an interest be doing about access talks? Nothing directly I suggest. But this is still a critical time to engage the top of the Civil Service in every area: the approach just needs to be broader and more subtle than a focus directly on the access talks. Instead, every organisation should be asking itself about the evidence, insight and relationships that it can bring to bear, to help the senior people in departments through this phase and achieve its own goals. And there are plenty of lessons from 1997 and 2010 about how things can either go well for businesses – or badly.

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How can government and business collaborate to create ‘good’ economic growth?

I’m a great believer that there’s something you can call good economic growth. That’s growth which creates real wealth and good jobs, but does so in a way that is lasting and respects the greatest sources of wealth we have – the planet and its people.

There’s never been a time when bringing these things together has been more important – whether to improve the state of Britain’s economy, or to address the most profound challenges of climate change and biodiversity.

For all our recent turbulence, Britain has giant strengths. These can create immense opportunities when we bring them together well: not just great companies and entrepreneurs, but also some great public institutions including our universities, legal system, and the Civil Service. These are globally respected and have huge potential as sources of value.

Most of my 30 year career in and around Government was spent doing what I’ve just described – trying to bring Government and business together to create lasting benefit for society. Then I called it micro-economic policy, and it’s what I did at HMT for 15 years – whether getting private investment into infrastructure or creating a better tax regime for entrepreneurs. It’s also what I did on the Board at Ofcom: I spent 7 years helping to set up the regulator and then run it. It was also a big part of the nearly 10 years I spent as a Permanent Secretary, or CEO-equivalent, across the Department for Transport, Home Office, and for a little while the Department for Business.

In fact one of my proudest achievements as a Permanent Secretary was helping to shift the mindset at DfT so that it was a bit less focussed on extra concrete and steel – the traditional answer to transport problems – and more focussed on radical innovation. The UK’s strong story on EVs today can be traced back to the partnership we created a decade and more ago between business, government and academe: to my mind that’s a model for government and business working together.

Chairing WA’s Advisory Board now gives me the opportunity apply this experience to help WA’s team and clients. One of the reasons I was keen to join WA was that its own approach – the emphasis on collaboration – is really well aligned with my own. And real collaboration starts with really good understanding: not just of the policy challenges and constraints that might be faced by the firms WA advises, but the longer-term goals and the sense of opportunity.

And my hunch is that after the Election, whoever wins, that theme of good growth is itself just going to keep on growing.

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Former Permanent Secretary Sir Philip Rutnam joins WA’s Advisory Board

Formerly one of the UK’s most senior civil servants, Sir Philip joins the Advisory Board as its Chair, and will provide strategic advice on the inner workings of Whitehall as we approach the general election and potential change of government.

WA’s advisory board draws together senior figures from the communications industry, Westminster, the media, and the health sector, including former CEO of Grayling UK Alison Clarke; Chair of NHS South West London Integrated Care Board and Chair of Lewisham & Greenwich NHS Trust, Mike Bell; and broadcaster & journalist Steve Richards.

Having previously served as the Permanent Secretary of the UK Home Office, Permanent Secretary at the Department for Transport, acting Permanent Secretary at the Department for Business, and as one of the founders of Ofcom, Sir Philip brings an unrivalled understanding of government operations and policy-making processes. His distinguished career spans over three decades, during which he held several high-profile positions within the British civil service.

Sir Philip’s expertise in governance, risk management, and policy implementation will be invaluable in advising WA Communications’ clients on navigating the evolving regulatory landscape.

Commenting on the appointment, Dominic Church, Managing Director, WA Communications said:

“We are thrilled to welcome Sir Philip Rutnam to our advisory board, His extensive experience and deep knowledge of government operations will further enhance our consultancy’s capabilities, enabling us to provide our clients with even more comprehensive and strategic advice across multiple sectors. Sir Philip’s appointment reinforces our commitment to delivering high-quality counsel and unmatched insights to our valued clients.”

Sir Philip added:

“WA’s advisory board reflects the breadth of strategic advice that the agency as a whole is able to provide, and the policy and reputational outcomes it achieves. I’m delighted to be able to add my experience to this, as we approach what could be a significant time of change in Westminster, and for organisations across the country”.

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