I know, let’s put the Work Programme in charge of Brexit

So here’s the disgraced Liam Fox being all rah-rah about globalisation and free trade. You’d think in that case he’d be pretty keen on:

A single market without barriers—visible or invisible—giving you direct and unhindered access to the purchasing power of over 300 million of the world’s wealthiest and most prosperous people.

Bigger than Japan. Bigger than the United States. On your doorstep. And with the Channel Tunnel to give you direct access to it.

It’s not a dream. It’s not a vision. It’s not some bureaucrat’s plan. It’s for real

People often talk about the distinction between Keynesianism and Keynes, but check out the radical fracture between Thatcher and Thatcherites. Anyway, it’s blindingly obvious that Liam Fox, especially, is negotiating with the EU in his head. We’re looking at people with a very different mental model of reality to nearly anyone else, thrashing around in Boydian incoherence as they come up against it.

So, given that there is no shortage of civil servants who have spent decades managing the UK’s involvement in the European Union, who’s briefing them? Let’s have a look.

The all-new Department for International Trade basically consists of the UK Trade & Investment directorate, carved out of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, plus some pieces from the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (i.e. BIS, DTI as was). That sounds like a good start. After all, UKTI has been assessed as being the best such agency in the developed world, which does rather raise the question as to why we’re fiddling with it and how anyone thinks the government somehow doesn’t do trade.

Its top officials are listed on its web page and profiled here by Civil Service World.

The boss, Sir Martin Donnelly, is the former BIS permanent secretary, was the FCO’s director of Europe and Globalisation, and before that, the deputy head of the Cabinet Office European Affairs Secretariat. I doubt it’s him who doesn’t know the difference between the customs union and the single market. Catherine Raines was the UKTI CEO, and before that ran AstraZeneca’s respiratory drugs supply chain among other things. John Alty is a career BIS official and the director of the Intellectual Property Office. Emma Squire was Sajid Javid’s private secretary at BIS, and before that, among other things, she ran the Treasury’s energy policy desk, the BIS nuclear desk, and the multilateral trade negotiating team.

I really doubt it’s any of these people. Not only is he evidently competent, Donnelly is actually doing two jobs, as he’s still got BEIS to run. Also, the ex-FCO people are technically on loan and the two departments are still arguing about whether they transfer over or not. Obviously, the FCO has vastly greater institutional heft in that fight. (Important CSW piece here. Interestingly, all snark aside, David Davis’ team seems quite a bit less flaky.)

Information about the new government’s SPADs is thin on the ground – neither CSW nor any of the PR firms has issued a full list like this one yet. DeSmogBlog names Fox’s press secretary David Goss, a Tory press officer. But that sounds a little bit meh.

What about this guy? Paul McComb rejoices in the title of Managing Director of Strategy UKTI and Transition Programme Director, and appears to have absolutely no relevant experience whatsoever. Better, he joins from the DWP, where he was Iain Duncan Smith’s principal private secretary and Deputy Director of Welfare Policy. Can it be…the guy who brought you Universal Credit? His LinkedIn page is here.

And that’s when I found something interesting.

Fascinatingly, a Paul McComb born in November 1967 appears in the register of companies as a director of Health and Employment Partnerships Ltd, private limited company 09431037. Astonishingly, H&EP Ltd. is actually up to date with its filings. It is classified under “Other business support services”, and it is worth pointing out here that it is not repeat not a charity or nonprofit of any kind. It is a plain-vanilla commercial company.

Is that the right McComb? The civil servant did his first university degree (Open, BSc Computer Science) in 1990. November ’67 guy would be 23 that year, which sounds a plausible age to take finals.

So what the balls is a health and employment partnership? The idea seems to be that ill people who are out of work have two problems, and dealing with them both might be sensible. But the combination of indifference, judgementalism, and relentless boosterism that characterised IDS’s – or shall we say Paul McComb’s – DWP can be counted on to take a reasonable idea and make it hellish. It doesn’t even take the length of this short blogpost to get from there to embedding Work Programme badgering into GP surgeries. So why do you think you’re anxious GET A JOB and JOB depressed OR WE’LL DOCK YOUR BENNIES then DON’T SWEAR WE HAVE A BEHAVIOUR POLICY WELL YOU SHOULD HAVE GOT THE LETTER?

And, it turns out, McComb and friends saw themselves implementing this on the other side of the table.

Social Finance has developed a new platform to co-commission health and employment services in partnership with a range of potential commissioning partners. HEP is a wholly-owned social purpose company whose mission is to work with commissioners, providers, and social investors to roll out best practice and innovative approaches to improving the wellbeing of people with health issues, through supporting them into employment.

“Social purpose company”; I like that. You might think that meant it was a company limited by guarantee not for profit. As we saw earlier, it isn’t. There’s more detail of what they were planning in this presentation; the whole idea was bound up with another wizard wheeze, social impact bonds. There’s a pilot project in Islington, funded out of Islington’s budget, which drew an angry demo – interestingly, another H&EP Ltd director is a top Islington Council official.

Is this really appropriate? It seems that people commissioning from this entity, with your money, are also directors of this entity and potentially beneficiaries of it.

Beyond that, I think this is really worrying. DWP was both the most ideologically warped department under the last government, and the least administratively effective. While McComb is settling into the DIT offices, aka a cupboard in the Foreign Office, the new minister, Damien Green, is in the process of shutting down IDS’s comedy crusades.

If there is one thing Britain’s trading relationships post-referendum don’t need, it’s the culture of Iain Duncan Smith’s DWP.

3 Comments on "I know, let’s put the Work Programme in charge of Brexit"

  1. Listening to IDS on the Today programme welcoming Green’s announcement and stating that he would have done it himself if only was the definition of delusional.


  2. In 2003 Liam Fox re-launched Atlantic Bridge by going to the USA and seeking funds on the back of the Tory support for the invasion of Iraq. Fox is a mercenary and will be seeking trade deals that may not necessarily advantageous to the UK as a whole.

    The European single market is not only prosperous and well-organised and on our doorstep. It has standards about accountability and the environment and human rights etc etc; but some politicians may prefer having trade agreements that don’t include those standards.


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