Bunhill: Fast track at the Treasury

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The Independent Online
ONCE upon a time, ambitious young Treasury mandarins rather scorned the job of press secretary. No longer. The pattern was set by Sir Peter Middleton, press secretary in the early 1970s and subsequently permanent secretary before waltzing off to save Barclays Bank. The latest star - and as head of public finance intimately involved in next week's Budget - is Robert Culpin. Inevitably described by anyone who knows him as 'intensely able', Culpin was appointed press secretary in 1984 despite a disclaimer that 'he never had the slightest desire to read the newspapers'.

The job is pretty stressful. Culpin had to explain away the casual declaration of Bernard Ingham, Margaret Thatcher's press secretary, that he didn't worry too much about the value of sterling. And his successor, John Gieve, hit turbulence early in his stint when his tape recorder failed to function at a meeting of the lobby and all sorts of rumours got out about what Nigel Lawson would do to the welfare state (though they now look pretty tame compared to Peter Lilley's ideas).

But Gieve has moved up the Treasury pecking order, as have Richard Allen and Dick Saunders. Gus O'Donnell, who moved to Number 10 as press secretary to John Major, has also returned to a Big Job. But there's one name missing from the roll of honour: Martin Hall. After his stint in the late 1980s, he retired (hurt?) to become head of public policy and public relations at the Stock Exchange.

PS. Budget message for John Birt: if you want to save money on your coverage on BBC Radio, you should go back 20 years to the first time it was transmitted live. The whole job, which now requires teams of experts, was done by a single business journalist, one Nicholas Faith, who is quite prepared to report for duty again on Tuesday. But not, it must be emphasised, for the pounds 100 he was paid then, even adjusted for inflation.

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