Whitehall must do more to promote UK, says Cahn

  • @oliver_wright

Key parts of the Civil Service are not up to the job of getting the inward investment needed to help Britain out of recession, the former head of UK Trade and Investment has warned.

In his first public comments since leaving UKTI, Andrew Cahn warned that outside the Foreign Office few government departments understand the importance of promoting Britain as a place to do business. He called on the Civil Service to take a more entrepreneurial approach toward making decisions and growing the economy.

"We need the whole of Whitehall to push in the same direction, and at the moment I don't think they do," he told The Independent. "The Foreign Office really has changed and is focused and rather effective on promoting inward investment. But in all sorts of other departments it has no sort of priority at all."

Mr Cahn, who ran UKTI for five years before stepping down at the end of last year, cited several government departments which, he said, could do more to encourage investment. "If you talk to the Department of Health they are simply not interested in pharmaceutical exports as an issue. You might say of course it's not high up their radar screen. But the fact is if you want to make sure that the big pharmaceutical companies are in this country, you need the Department of Health to play a role.

"You need Defra to be focused on food companies. You need the Department of Transport to be focused on transport companies. You need the Decc to be focused on energy companies. There is real scope for the whole of Whitehall to be focused on export promotion in a way that they certainly haven't done in the last five years."

Mr Cahn made his comments ahead of presenting a paper on Civil Service reform today at the Institute for Government. In the paper he calls for the Civil Service to take a more entrepreneurial approach towards decision-making. "Whitehall does not have a coherent approach to innovation and risk ... Ministers on the whole are understandably reluctant to see their civil servants expose them to the risk of failure with a new, untried idea. But clearly ministers do want civil servants to show more energy, more innovation and ideas. You cannot have great success without a leaven of failure."