David Cameron has received heavy criticism today for his ‘shabby’ handling of the government's troupe of business advisers. Over the past few weeks, a number of high-profile executives have been removed from the group. The PM’s reasoning: dissent in the ranks.
The PM has removed Sainsbury’s boss Justin King, and Paul Walsh, boss of Diageo – MT’s Most Admired Company this year - from the group already, but WPP’s Sir Martin Sorrell (our Most Admired Leader), Centrica’s Sam Laidlaw and BT and easyJet’s Mike Rake will soon resign their advisory posts, too.
Unfortunately, none of the outgoing executives would put their name to their comments, but one told Sky News: ‘The whole process has been abysmally handled. It has been shabby and has fomented a negative attitude to Cameron and suggests that he is totally unable to cope with dissenting voices.’ It’s the ‘dissenting voices’ bit that is the big issue here. Justin King, for example, has been an outspoken critic of the government and many of its policies. What is the point, these executives point out, of government having a Business Advisory Group when it doesn’t want to hear the advice?
Apparently, Cameron was concerned that the group was becoming too large and that discussions were not focused enough. Letters ‘sacking them’ went out on Thursday this week. Significant members remaining in the group are Tesco boss Philip Clarke, Prudential boss Tidjane Thiam, TalkTalk boss Dido Harding, and executive chairman of Google, Eric Schmidt. Interesting that Schmidt remains in the circle of trust: his is a controversial position given the ongoing feud over corporation tax, as Google is accused of paying too little in recent years.
Government insiders are now worried that Cameron’s unceremonious sacking of big-name bosses like King will put off business people from taking up public service posts in future. Cameron has better hope everyone doesn’t leave the party. The ‘pro-business’ PM would look very foolish then…