What will happen to the DTI?

by Stephen Tall on June 12, 2007

Lib Dem shadow secretary of state for trade and industry, Susan Kramer, has been setting out her reasons for seeking voluntary redundancy, as the party again voices its commitment to abolish a “fundamentally flawed” department.

Susan clearly believes Gordon Brown will soon make her dream come true in the imminent Government makeover:

“My goal in coming into this role has been to put both myself and every other Front-Bench DTI spokesman out of a job. It looks as if I will achieve that later in the year. When the Department is eliminated and elements of it restructured, it is crucial that it is not done simply to accommodate rival politicians who are looking for particular titles, or to sort out different political balances within the party.”

But will Mr Brown justify the speculation, and scrap the DTI?

There was some interesting speculation at the weekend in the column of Patience Wheatcroft, the well-connected editor of The Sunday Telegraph, concerning the promotion of Mr Brown’s former-economic-adviser-turned-MP, Ed Balls:

… brainy Balls is due for a promotion when his boss gets his. One plausible theory is that both aims could be fulfilled with a radical restructuring of the Government that the Chancellor has been pondering.
This presupposes that he accepts that it is too soon in his career for Mr Balls to take on the role of Chancellor, the most likely contender for that post still looking like Alistair Darling. He is currently running the much maligned Department for Trade and Industry, which is thought by many to be destined for restructuring out of existence.
But it might instead be due for a resurgence under the leadership of Mr Balls, who could take with him to the DTI the financial services sector. He might also take with him other activities into which the Treasury has ventured under the ever-extending reach of Mr Brown, such as responsibility for improving productivity.
At a stroke, the power of the Treasury would be lessened, Mr Balls would have a bigger job and the City would be kept on side.

In all this incipient deck-chair re-arranging and ego-massaging, let’s hope Labour doesn’t lose sight of the need to lessen the DTI’s interfering tendencies. Susan again:

“There needs to be a sunset clause on every aspect of what the DTI does, so that it will be examined and a decision will be made on whether it is a worthwhile and appropriate activity for the government to carry out – and whether it can be carried out within a particular Department on constructed in an alternative way. An alternative home should be made available for those aspects that are worthwhile; that would be more effective, and would eliminate duplication. Those parts that are inappropriate should disappear for good.”