Business grandees shun Cameron over trade job

  • @AlistairDawber

More than three months after the coalition Government was formed, and ministerial jobs were divided up between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, David Cameron's administration has still not appointed a trade minister to promote UK business abroad.

Mr Cameron has made trade one of his top priorities since coming into office in May, yet after almost 100 days in power, he has failed to attract anyone suitable for the brief.

The Government has made no secret of its intention to appoint an industry grandee to the post, but so far it has been unsuccessful it prising anyone from a better-paid job in the City.

The last Labour trade minister, Lord Davies, who is the former chairman of Standard Chartered bank, declined an offer from Mr Cameron to continue in the job after the election.

Two months ago, the Prime Minister was also rebuffed by Sir John Rose, the chief executive of engineering group Rolls-Royce.

At the time, the Government said that it hoped to appoint a minister, "reasonably soon". It admitted that other leading business figures had also been approached about the job, but had turned it down.

The vacancy is causing increased embarrassment to the Government, especially as no minister had been appointed ahead of last month's high-profile trade mission to India, led by Mr Cameron.

A Downing Street spokesman said on Friday that "an announcement will be made in due course". There was no indication that a potential candidate has been identified.

The shadow Secretary of State for Business, Pat McFadden, said that the failure to make an appointment was extraordinary. "For a Government that says it wants to rebalance the economy and promote trade, the failure to appoint a minister to oversee trade is extraordinary," he said. "British business deserves better. The situation is that we don't have any minister batting for British trade abroad and the longer this goes on, the more unacceptable it is."

While a considerable drop in salary is understood to have dissuaded some of the possible candidates, others have baulked at he idea of putting their assets into a blind trust. Some candidates are said to be wary of the increased scrutiny they would be subjected to in the role.

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), which promotes UK business interest overseas, will say today that the new Government is performing well, but will lament the lack of a trade minister.

"Business wants to see more progress in areas such as international trade," said David Frost, the BCC's director general. "While the Prime Minister has led a trade mission to India, we have not yet seen the appointment of a dedicated trade minister, nor a focused strategy for a strong export economy."

During a trip to China in July, William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, said that he was "banging the drum" for British trade. But with other distractions, not least the ongoing war in Afghanistan, his department will be unable to fill the gap left by the vacant position for long.