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Barclays chief to lead reform of tax and welfare system

Martin Taylor, chief executive of the Barclays banking group, yesterday became the second top businessman to be drafted in to spearhead Government reforms, after being appointed by the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, to head a task force aimed at streamlining the tax and benefits systems.

But Labour's new-found affinity with business may soon run into controversy. It was revealed earlier that Peter Jarvis, the retiring chief executive of the Whitbread brewing and leisure group, who was in line to chair the Government's Low Pay Commission, was himself paid more than pounds 1m last year. The figure represents around pounds 520 an hour, or over 150 times the pounds 3.20- an-hour level, which he is thought to favour as the threshold for any minimum wage.

Mr Taylor's job comes swiftly after the appointment of Sir David Simon, the former chairman of BP, as minister for trade and competitiveness in Europe, in the Department of Trade and Industry. The latest task force, which will be entirely Whitehall-based, and is expected to last a year, fulfils a manifesto commitment to streamline and modernise the system, to promote work incentives, reduce poverty and welfare dependency, while "strengthening community and family life".

Mr Taylor said he "didn't want a committee of the great and the good"; rather he expected it to consist of himself and four civil servants, one each from the Treasury, the Inland Revenue, the Department of Social Security, and the Department for Education and Employment.

Mr Taylor, an Eton-educated former financial journalist, will give two days a month to the project. He said he would be taking depositions from outside bodies, but the challenge would be to "discipline ourselves to keep on the question", which he conceded was extremely broad.

Meanwhile, the latest accounts for Whitbread revealed that Mr Jarvis's basic pay and bonus rose 7.9 per cent, to just under pounds 599,000 in the year to 1 March, but he also cashed in share options which netted him an additional profit of pounds 441,000. The indications from Downing Street are that Mr Jarvis may not now be in the running for the Low Pay job. His candidature has met with considerable hostility from trade union leaders.