The films, which are part of the Cabinet Confidential series, contain interviews with Robert Armstrong, Robin Butler, Richard Wilson, Andrew Turnbull and Gus O’Donnell. They all talk about what happened behind the scenes whilst working as the Prime Minister’s most senior civil servant.
“Cabinet secretaries are among the rarest of rare breeds” explains contemporary British historian Lord Hennessy, who carried out the interviews along with political historian Anthony Seldon. “They have discretion built into the calcium of their bones. So a chance to talk to them on the record across the whole range of their special calling is an occasion to be savoured”.
All of the films were produced by Queen Mary, University of London in partnership with Number 10.
Film launch event
The first two films were launched at an event at Downing Street, with Lord Armstrong and Lord Butler.
In the first film, Lord Armstrong recalls events during his time working with Lady Thatcher.
In his interview, Lord Butler talks about the bombing of the Grand Hotel, Brighton in 1984 and the IRA mortar attack on Downing Street in 1991.
The launch of the films coincides with the publication of the National Archives’ first tranche of Cabinet Secretary papers (1936-1951) .
Further films will be published on 10 Downing Street YouTube channel in the coming months.
CBI head and UK’s largest employers descend on Downing Street amid claims tax row has been used as ‘political football’
The president of the CBI is delivering a firm message from some of Britain’s largest employers to David Cameron, calling on him to stop “moralising” on how multinational corporations should be taxed.
Roger Carr, flanked by some of the country’s most powerful global business leaders, trooped into Downing Street on Monday for a 3pm meeting of the prime minister’s business advisory group. Around the table were chief executives of the UK multinationals Burberry, Tesco, Vodafone, BAE Systems, Prudential and GSK. Also present was Google’s chairman, Eric Schmidt, despite the search firm coming under fierce attack from MPs last week over its tax arrangements.
Business leaders were keen to outline their views to the prime minister before the G8 meeting in Northern Ireland next month, during which David Cameron has pledged to use Britain’s presidency to tackle “aggressive tax avoidance” by multinational firms.
A hint as to the robust tone business leaders were likely to take with the prime minister came in a speech Carr gave earlier in the day at an Oxford Business School event in London.
“It is only in recent times that tax has become an issue on the public agenda – Starbucks, Google, Amazon – businesses that the general public know and believe they understand; businesses with a brand that become a perfect political football, the facts difficult to digest; public passions easy to inflame.”
In what appeared to be pointed criticism of increasingly firm rhetoric from Cameron on multinational tax engineering, the CBI boss insisted tax avoidance “cannot be about morality – there are no absolutes”.
In January the prime minister used a speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos to put a marker down on questions of tax structuring by big business. “Some forms of avoidance have become so aggressive that I think it is right to say these are ethical issues,” he said, urging multinationals to “wake up and smell the coffee”.
Carr told an audience at the London event: “Tax payments are not, and should not be … a payment viewed as a down payment on social acceptability, or a contribution made by choice in order to defuse public anger or political attack.”
The CBI boss, who is being talked of as a successor to Dick Olver as chairman of BAE Systems, invited the G8 to consider three things in relation to tax reform:
• to avoid the moral debate – “it’s all about the rules”
• to fix the rules on an international stage, not unilaterally
• to consult on proposed changes with business.
Earlier in the day, asked whether Cameron was going to raise Google’s tax affairs at his meeting with business leaders, a Downing Street spokesman said: “We don’t talk about individuals or individual companies’ tax affairs. What the PM will be doing at the meeting will be explaining the tax and tax transparency part of the G8 agenda which he has been discussing with other G8 leaders and he will discuss again at the European council.”
Meeting follows row over Google’s tax affairs but No 10 denies multinational tax arrangements are on agenda
Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt will meet David Cameron next week, just days after the internet giant was mauled by a Commons committee over its tax affairs, it has emerged.
Downing Street confirmed that Schmidt is set to attend a quarterly meeting of the prime minister’s Business Advisory Group at No 10 on Monday.
The Google chief is one of 16 members of the group, established in 2010 as a sounding board for the PM to hear business leaders’ concerns and priorities and discuss the government’s policies for the economy and growth, and has regularly taken part in its gatherings.
Downing Street said Monday’s meeting had been in the diary for some time and was not called in response to the recent controversy over the levels of tax Google pays in the UK. Details of the discussions are not normally released by Downing Street, but the spokesman said he was not aware of any plans for multinationals’ tax arrangements to be on the agenda.
Google was branded devious, calculating and unethical on Thursday, as furious MPs stepped up pressure on the search engine over its efforts to shelter its multibillion-pound profits from UK taxes.
At a stormy session of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, members reacted with incredulity to claims that the company – which paid just £6m in corporation tax in 2011 – did not carry out advertising sales in the UK, despite generating more than £3bn a year in revenues.
Vice-president Matt Brittin, Google’s head of operations in northern Europe, insisted he stood by evidence he gave last year that all of the company’s European sales were routed through its operation in Ireland and so were not liable to UK taxes.
But he was told by the committee chairman, Margaret Hodge: “You are a company that says you do no evil and I think that you do do evil in that you use smoke and mirrors to avoid paying tax.”
Top accountancy firm’s call for voluntary tax reform at odds with campaigners who want greater transparency for multinationals
Top tax advisers at Ernst & Young, auditors to Google, Amazon and Facebook, have held a high-level lobbying meeting at Number 10, urging the prime minister not to support calls for financial transparency measures which have been proposed by tax fairness campaigners.
E&Y’s UK head of tax John Dixon said he and the firm’s global head of tax policy Chris Sanger had taken their lobbying message to Downing Street because “it is not an issue that is going to go away and it is receiving a huge amount of interest at the highest level of our society”.
Tax Justice Network (TJN), Global Witness, Save the Children, Cafod and the ActionAid are among the many charities and campaign groups urging governments and the G20 to impose tough rules on multinationals forcing them to report separately on their financial activity for each country in which they operate.
Tax fairness campaigners believe this will help expose aggressive attempts by multinationals to use intra-group transactions as a means to shift profits to low-tax jurisdictions.
So-called country-by-country reporting has already been imposed on mining and oil extraction groups by the US and is shortly to be extended to banks by the EU. “The floodgates are, however, not yet open,” said Dixon in a paper published yesterday.
He suggested multinationals should “seize the initiative” and called on them to consider measures to “appease the fair tax lobby” if they want to head off mounting calls for tougher rules to stop them shifting profits to low-tax jurisdictions.
David Cameron, who will host the G8 next month at Lough Erne in Northern Ireland, has made tax transparency a major plank of the summit. Earlier this year he signalled that developing world countries should be able to access information needed “to tackle abuses in the system, so that governments can collect taxes due to them”.
Dixon warned pressure to reform the tax treatment of global businesses had reached a “tipping point”, adding: “If there is not a step change in the level of voluntary tax transparency reporting, there is a possibility mandatory changes will follow.”
E&Y calls for voluntary tax reform were met with some scepticism by long-standing tax campaigners. “It has to be an exercise in wishful thinking to suggest companies can reform without international standards being imposed upon them,” said John Christensen, director of Tax Justice Network (TJN). “It [the E&Y report] sounds a bit like: ‘God make me good, but not quite yet’.”
Last weekend, E&Y chairman Steve Varley told a Sunday newspaper that measures to increase Britain’s tax competitiveness were beginning to attract a wave of international companies relocating to the UK. “I know of more than 40 multinational companies that have been looking to undertake global and regional headquarter relocations into Britain,” Varley said.
E&Y’s calls for voluntary tax disclosures were echoed yesterday by CBI which also called for greater transparency in a “statement of tax principles” that it said were needed to restore the public’s trust in corporate Britain. John Cridland, boss of the business lobby group, said the business community was aware that it needed to explain more fully its financial contribution to society.
“We are encouraging firms to introduce narrative reporting, preferably on a sheet of A4 in the annual report, that tells the story in an accessible way about how much tax has been paid and why,” he said.
The CBI is concerned that Downing Street will seek to deflect growing criticism of corporate tax avoiders with proposals that require companies to produce country-by-country details of their tax payments.
In January, Dixon admitted to MPs that the OECD rulebook for taxing multinationals “needs to be addressed” in the wake of the emergence of digital businesses. However, the E&Y tax boss has now set out his firm opposition to transparency measures advocated by campaign groups. Dixon said E&Y had carried out a survey of UK firms and found that 70% of tax professionals were opposed to so-called country-by-country reporting.
“I think you have got to come to the conclusion this [calls for tougher policing of multinationals' tax affairs] is not going to go away,” said Dixon. “We are actively advising companies that they need to address the issue… They need to think about what type of transparency they should adopt, and how they should adopt it and where they should adopt it.”
His remarks come a week after Margaret Hodge, chair of parliament’s public accounts committee, suggested Dixon — who has already faced a grilling by MPs in January — might shortly be recalled to give further evidence over the tax affairs of Google along an executive from the search group. No formal request has yet been sent to him.
E&Y has global tax revenues of $6bn and employs about 29,000 experts in offices around the world offering tax advice to clients including multinational groups with controversial tax arrangements such as Amazon, Google, Facebook and Hewlett Packard. In the UK alone, E&Y has 2,081 tax experts generating revenues of £431m, or just over a quarter of total UK turnover.
Foreign secretary dismisses calls for an immediate EU referendum, as one senior MP accuses him of failing on strategy
William Hague was at loggerheads with old allies on the Tory right on Sunday night after he rejected calls for a change in tactics by Downing Street as a response to the new threat posed by the United Kingdom Independence party.
As the Ukip leader, Nigel Farage, warned that his party would trigger a political “earthquake” in next year’s European parliamentary elections, the foreign secretary dismissed calls for an immediate EU referendum and said there were no “quick fixes”.
There were suggestions on Sunday night that Downing Street may try to reach out to disaffected Tory voters, who have complained about plans to legalise gay marriage, by omitting any reference to the equal marriage bill in this week’s Queen’s speech. The Liberal Democrats are making clear that the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, which is being carried over into the new parliamentary session after completing its commons committee stage on 12 March, will not and cannot be dropped.
But one leading figure on the right accused Hague of failing to understand the depth of the threat posed by Ukip whose success is not a “flash in the pan” along the lines of the 15% the Greens won in the 1989 European parliamentary elections. The senior MP said: “William Hague is once again proving that he is always wrong on strategy.”
The criticism of the foreign secretary came as the Conservative party embarked on a mild panic after Ukip won almost a quarter of the vote in wards where it stood in last week’s English local elections. Farage, who predicted his party would win next year’s European parliamentary elections in “an earthquake in British politics”, stoked Tory tensions by saying that he would be open to talks if the party removed Cameron as prime minister.
The Ukip leader told the Andrew Marr Show on BBC1: “If David Cameron gets removed … and somebody else was put in place who wanted to come and talk to us and say, ‘Shall we find an accommodation?’ we would consider it. But it is not my priority. My priority is to build a new political party, a movement in this country that actually wants to stand up for the interests of ordinary people.”
David Davis, the former shadow home secretary, called on Cameron to speed up the process of a vote on the EU by holding a “mandate” referendum in this parliament to strengthen his hand in negotiations. This would be followed by an in-out referendum after the conclusion of negotiations to rewrite the terms of British membership.
Davis said that the Liberal Democrats should not be allowed to hold up the referendum. He said on the Sunday Politics show on BBC1: “Well, look, the Lib Dems are, what – one sixth or one seventh of the coalition MPs? Should they have a veto on everything? I don’t think so.”
But Hague said it was not possible to introduce a government bill, although he held the possibility of the Tory leadership supporting a backbench bill. The foreign secretary told Sky News: “We are prepared … to look at ways of strengthening that commitment [to hold a referendum by 2017]. But we have taken no decision yet about that and everyone has to bear in mind we don’t have a Conservative majority in the House of Commons of today.”
Hague used an article in the Sunday Telegraph to say it would be wrong for the Tories to embark on a shift to the right as he rejected “quick fixes”. He wrote: “There is always a temptation for politicians to offer quick fixes; to say we can cut taxes, increase spending, bring down the deficit and solve our problems with a magic wand. When times are hard the temptation to do this is even stronger. People are tired of bad news.
“Many want to hear that there’s a Plan B or C or D that is a shortcut to success. But to offer shortcuts that will not work would be to cheat the British people, offering them a dead end – and frankly it is patronising to them too.”
Andrew Mitchell sells bike at centre of row to raise money for charity that helps HIV and Aids affected children in Kenya
Former chief whip Andrew Mitchell’s bicycle, which was at the centre of the “plebgate” row, has been put up for auction to raise money for charity.
Mitchell was riding the seven-year-old bike when police officers refused to let him leave Downing Street via the main gate in September last year.
He has now put his “hard-working” Reflux Westminster on sale as he seeks to give it a “good home out of the limelight”.
All the proceeds from the sale will go to the charity Nyumbani UK, which helps HIV and Aids affected children in Kenya.
The 18-speed bike, complete with front basket, has so far attracted one anonymous bid of £200, but will stay on sale until 7pm on Thursday.
It was claimed at the time that Mitchell swore at the officers and called them “plebs”.
Mitchell – who strenuously denies the allegation that he called the officers plebs – was forced to resign after a series of damaging headlines.
Scotland Yard are investigating the Downing Street dispute in the wake of a Channel 4 investigation which cast doubt on the original account of the incident.
The programme revealed CCTV footage which showed there was not a large group of tourists outside the main gate at the time, as had originally been claimed.
An email from a civilian witness backing up the police account of events has also since been called into question.
Cameron’s senior advisers appear to be finding other jobs fast. The reasons why aren’t hard to identify
Earlier this month, after the news was announced of Rohan Silva’s depature from Downing Street, I listed some of those who had left previously:
• Tim Chatwin, head of strategic communications.
• James O’Shaughnessy, head of policy.
• Peter Campbell, who helped to prepare him for Prime Minister’s Questions – as he did former Conservative leaders.
• Steve Hilton (who needs no introduction).
This morning, Rachel Sylvester, who has excellent Downing Street contacts (or so one must conclude from her columns), adds further names in the Times (paywalled link):
• Paul Kirby, another head of policy
• Kris Murrin, head of Downing Street’s Implementation Unit, is on a year’s sabbatical.
• Sean Worth, a senior adviser, and the man sent to the Department of Health to steady the ship over NHS reform. My apologies to Sean, who has strong views about public service reform, and should have been on my original list.
Rachel also writes: “I am told that of the 10 senior civil servants who originally worked in the Downing Street policy unit, only three now remain – and two of these are actively looking for new jobs.”
Admittedly, personnel come and go from No 10 under any administration. But Cameron is experiencing a high attrition rate. Why?
The answer isn’t hard to find. Non-civil servants who work for prime ministers are usually motivated by a) ideological zeal or b) personal ambition or c) both.
Cameron travels ideology-light. Consequently, those senior staffers driven by a particular ideal tend to leave – Hilton being the exemplar.
In little more than two years, Cameron may well be gone. Very few people in Downing Street – if any – are confident that he will still be in place in June 2015.
And (not to neglect the obvious) he leads a coalition, which means that his government has even more than the usual share of cobbled-up compromises.
The comparison with Margaret Thatcher, startlingly, suggests more similarities than differences – at least when it comes to senior staff turnover. Charles Moore refers to John Hoskyns, Lady Thatcher’s first policy unit head, in Andrew Gimson’s interview with him. Moore decribes a memo in which Hoskyns “absolutely rips into her about her leadership style. It’s a rather brilliant encapsulation of her bad qualities.” (The Spectator carried an interview with Hoskyns after Thatcher’s death which is well worth reading.)
Hoskyns, who arrived with Thatcher in 1979, was gone from Downing Street by 1982 – a reminder that than even the most inspiring governments lose senior staff, often because they, like Hilton, believe that their advice is being flouted. The delightful Ferdinand Mount, whose memoir contains one of the funniest accounts of life with Thatcher ever written, also didn’t last long in the post. John Redwood did two years before being selected to contest Wokingham.
Finally, Rachel’s take on the will-he-won’t-he departure of Andrew Cooper, No 10’s director of strategy, is that he will return to Populus, the polling company he helped to found, after October. (So Peter Hoskin was right to be sceptical about Downing Street’s denials.) But when is a departure not a departure? Cooper advised Cameron before his appointment, and he is likely to go on doing so after he leaves. He was always likely to return to Populus at some point, so I take suggestions of an unbridgeable gulf between him and Lynton Crosby with a pinch of salt.
UK government denies reports that it will omit pledge to enshrine aid spending in law from Queen’s speech
Downing Street has stuck to its line that there is no change in plans to enshrine increases in overseas aid spending in law, despite renewed reports that it will ditch its election pledge.
The Times on Monday reported (paywall) that legislation to require the UK to spend at least 0.7% of gross national income (GNI) on aid will not feature in the Queen’s speech on 8 May, prompting accusations from Labour that David Cameron is set to ditch the pledge.
The commitment to enshrine the target in law was set out in the 2010 coalition agreement between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, and repeated in the government’s mid-term review in January this year.
The government backed away from the pledge last year on the grounds that there was not enough parliamentary time. NGOs suspect that Cameron, the prime minister, and George Osborne, the chancellor, did not want to antagonise Tory backbenchers, who strongly resent protection of the aid budget at a time when other departments are under pressure.
Ivan Lewis MP, Labour’s shadow international development secretary, said: “David Cameron made a manifesto promise to enshrine in law the UK’s commitment to spend 0.7% of GNI on aid, but it now seems that he’s set to abandon it like so many other of the pre-election claims he made … enshrining the link between aid and national income in law would mean our future contribution to the fight against world poverty would be permanently linked to the state of our nation’s finances, increasing in the good times and reducing when times are hard.”
Cameron’s official spokesman played down the report. “The position is as set out in the coalition agreement, which the mid-term review clearly restated. There is no change,” he said.
The Department for International Development (DfID) said the UK remained committed to the target. “In the March 2013 budget, the coalition government honoured the UK’s long-standing pledge to spend 0.7% of gross national income as aid from 2013. Spending less than 1% of our national income on aid – an internationally agreed target – will create a safer and more prosperous world for the UK.”
Both No10 and DfID declined to comment on the contents of the Queen’s speech.
Britain will be the first in the G8 group of rich countries to meet the decades-old promise on aid, after Osborne announced in last month’s budget that the UK would hit the 0.7% target this year. The UK’s official development assistance is expected to rise to £11.3bn when the 0.7% target is reached. With a population of about 63 million, the figure works out at roughly £137 per person.
However, in real terms, DfID’s budget will be reduced by £135m in 2013-14 and £165m in 2014-15 to reflect the downward revisions to GNI set out in government forecasts. The budget shows the department was underspent by £500m in 2012-13, which DfID explained as a result of transfers to other departments – such as the Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence, and changing project schedules.
Ahead of GDP figures, PM’s spokesman defends cabinet secretary, who reportedly spoke of ministerial divisions over growth strategy
Downing Street has said the economy is “slowly healing” before the publication of the latest growth figures which could show that Britain has entered a triple-dip recession.
The prime minister’s spokesman, who was forced to defend the cabinet secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, after he reportedly spoke of ministerial divisions over the government’s growth strategy, said progress was being made on a series of fronts.
Whitehall is bracing itself for the publication on Thursday of growth figures for the first quarter of 2013. Britain’s gross domestic product (GDP) shrank by 0.3% in the final quarter of last year. If GDP contracts again – a second consecutive quarter of negative growth – Britain would enter another recession, its third since 2008.
The prime minister’s spokesman made clear that George Osborne and David Cameron would try to strike an upbeat note when the growth figures are published by the Office for National Statistics. He said: “This government isn’t in the forecasting business. Forecasts are made by the independent Office for Budget Responsibility and the data is put out by the ONS. [But] as the chancellor was saying last week and the prime minister in his speech several weeks ago, what you are seeing is the economy is slowly healing. Deficit down by a third, 1.2m private sector jobs, the hard-won fiscal credibility that this government has translated into low interest rates for mortgage owners. Does the economic situation remain tough? Absolutely, yes. But the government believes the economy is healing.”
The spokesman also defended Heywood after the Times reported that the UK’s most senior civil servant had told a group of bankers in a private meeting that top cabinet ministers were adopting different approaches to the economy. Cameron wants to prioritise exports, free trade and micro- and small businesses, according to the Times report of Heywood’s remarks. On the other hand, Nick Clegg wants to focus on regional growth, Vince Cable believes the lack of finance is holding back growth, and Osborne wants to focus on infrastructure and attracting overseas investment to Britain.
The prime minister’s spokesman said: “The position is really clear. There is a single, central economic approach which is around dealing with the deficit and debts while reforming the economy so Britain can compete in the global race.
“Within that you would expect the government to be doing a whole range of things. Should we be seeking to increase trade with the likes of China and India? Yes. Are we looking at all the ways we increase the SME [small and medium enterprise] financing availability? Yes. Do we set out long-term investments in infrastructure? Yes. Do we support the rebalancing of the UK economy, including regionally? Yes.
“We do all of those things as part of the government’s economic approach. The only surprise would be if we weren’t doing all of those things.”
Gardener, Paul Schooling (pictured), started work at 10 Downing Street in 1989. He remembers Baroness Thatcher’s love of flowers and plants:
“Mrs Thatcher loved the garden, and after she left office she came to a reception at Number 10. She was walking in the garden by the roses with then-Prime Minister Tony Blair and I introduced myself to her.
“With her keen eye for detail, the first thing she said to me was: “What have you done with my roses?”. This was because after she had left we replaced the roses with the hardier David Austin variety.
“She loved roses, so much so, that a former gardener picked a rose for her every day to go in her study. She also liked Downing Street to be decorated with house plants.
“When she left office I remember us all clapping her out and her crying. She then composed herself and walked out.”
Michael York, a messenger, started at 10 Downing Street on 2 April 1982 on the night the Falklands War started. Here he recalls Baroness Thatcher, the ‘mother hen’:
“Mrs Thatcher was very generous to the staff and made sure we were all looked after. Sometimes if it had been a very long day she asked us to eat with her. We called her the mother hen.
“When she used to walk into the private office everyone always used to stand up for her. That sort of thing doesn’t happen these days.
“One of my favourite memories of Mrs Thatcher came in the eighties when I was polishing brass before Queen Elizabeth II came for a special meeting of the heads of the Commonwealth at Downing Street. A figure [Mrs Thatcher’s] appeared above me and I said: ‘what a nice pair of legs’.
“‘Thank you very much Michael’ she said, and walked down the corridor laughing to herself.”