UK: Ex-ministers aren't always worth their weight in gold.

UK: Ex-ministers aren't always worth their weight in gold. - Government ministers could be forgiven for wondering now and again what they may be worth once their Whitehall days are over.

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Government ministers could be forgiven for wondering now and again what they may be worth once their Whitehall days are over.

Few would mind following in former foreign secretary Douglas Hurd's footsteps to secure a quarter of a million pound deputy chairmanship, as he did recently at NatWest Securities. But is any ex-minister really worth that kind of money?

If they are, it is due more to their innate brainpower and general knowledge about Whitehall, claims ex-mandarin Sir Peter Kemp, than their perceived ability to open doors. Kemp, who was the second permanent secretary to the Cabinet Office, would go so far as to say that ex-ministers tend to close doors rather than open them.

Civil servants and ministers are usually embarrassed or irritated when former superiors or colleagues make contact on behalf of their new employers.

Furthermore, the usefulness of a minister's specific political knowledge and contacts have a very short shelf life. A former Conservative Cabinet minister suggests that important influence only lasts for approximately six months. Privatisation is one exception to this trend, however. Ministers who have worked in this area have proved of value to banks which are now advising other countries on their own privatisation programmes.

The former financial secretary Francis Maude, for instance, has recently been taken on by Morgan Stanley after a five-year spell at Salomon Brothers, as their global head of privatisation at a reputed annual salary of £500,000.

Andrew Lansley, a former director of the Conservative Research Department, adds other special skills to the 'useful knowledge' list including, in some cases, an 'intimate' knowledge of European legislation and a special understanding of international trade.

Lord Desai, the London School of Economics academic and Labour peer, judges that an ex-minister can be useful for his contacts and reputation, adding that at least his 'telephone calls tend to get returned'. But even abroad, Kemp and two former Conservative ministers agree, an ex-minister is likely to be a serious nuisance to the appointed British ambassador while making few real gains for his employer. Meanwhile, one former politician turned businessman has no doubts about the capacity of ministers for the rigours of business life. Few people outside politics, he claims, realise how gruelling a minister's life can be. Lord Young admits it is a great deal easier to be a CEO than a minister.

In spite of his doubts about the influence of ministers in the corridors of power, Kemp does feel that one should employ an ex-minister for their intrinsic personal qualities. To reach the top of the ministerial ladder they do have to have the right qualities. The real trick, Kemp claims, is taking on a minister for the right reasons: for their brains, stamina and general experience. In other words, for what they are and not for what they were.

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