Margareta Pagano: Why has Sir Alan been hired as 'enterprise tsar'?

My list of business people to advise companies would not include Sugar

Related Topics

When Sir Alan Sugar turned up at Downing Street last week in his Rolls Royce, a polite newspaper photographer (they do exist) asked him what was the purpose of his visit. Sir Alan's reported response was: "It's none of your business."

Twenty-four hours later came the news that Sir Alan – star of The Apprentice, which had its grand finale last night – was to be handed a peerage and had agreed to become an "enterprise tsar" for Labour. Right then, Sir Alan, now it is our business.

Sir Alan might enjoy huge popular affection and move in circles that embrace both the prime minister and such giants of TV celebrity as Piers Morgan and Simon Cowell, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't hold his business credentials up to the light.

His relations with Morgan go back to when Sir Alan had a column on the Daily Mirror, which at the time was edited by the man who would later make it very big on TV. (It was buying shares in Sugar's Viglen company which got Morgan into such hot water in the so-called City Slickers scandal, although it should be made clear that Sugar had no involvement in the affair).

What of Sugar's BBC connections? How does his new position sit with his role on The Apprentice? Is there a precedent for a Labour peer presenting such a show, and can we really expect the BBC to examine his business record?

Andrew Marr had a go at questioning Sir Alan on his TV show yesterday, but the man who gave us "You're fired!" was quick to deflect the problem by telling Marr that there were no conflicts because he is a government adviser, not a policy-maker. But in that case I wonder why he needed to be elevated to the Lords to do this role?

Some of his new comrades in the Lords are already asking questions – not just about his track record, but about his qualifications for offering up wisdom to bankers and builders. According to the most recent Sunday Times Rich List, Sir Alan's fortune is down by £100m to £730m. Most of his business today is in property – the Amstrad business that he is most famous for having built up was sold for £125m to BSkyB two years ago.

It's surely legitimate to ask whether Sir Alan could really hack it in mass-market electronics, and personally I've yet to get through a full episode of The Apprentice, a show which some business people reportedly despair of because it's such an unrealistic portrayal of what goes on in that world.

When I met Sir Alan years ago, he was as gruff and pompous then as he is now, clearly someone who reserves his charm for the powerful. But, more important, I believe that any list of the top thousand or so British businessmen or women who could do this job would not include Sir Alan. If the Prime Minister was serious about improving Britain's enterprise culture, his first call would have been to Sir John Rose, the chief executive of Rolls-Royce, who works tirelessly to promote serious innovation in the engineering and manufacturing sector of our society.

More pertinently, Sir John knows a thing or two about training real apprentices and graduates, employing as he does thousands of them every year at its Derby factory. In retail there is Kate Swann at WH Smith who has turned it in to a fine business, while at John Lewis there is chairman Charles Mayfield, and at least half a dozen managers below him, who could have been perfect to be tsar – if, of course, we really need such a gimmick.

I could name many more but the quality of these people shows how puzzling it is to have Sugar advising companies what to do. It is an insult to the business community to expect them to accept this man as their delegate in this debate: a debate that is more critical than ever to the UK economy and the future of our young.

His macho reputation is not the point, and we will be following the government spin-doctors up a blind alley if we waste time on that part of his personality. He isn't going to change irrespective of the fact that four of the last five in this season's Apprentice were women, and both of last night's finalists.

What do the people who allow themselves to be patronised by him on his TV show really think of him? The important thing is that no top businessman or woman I know will take him seriously. His appointment is the desperate act of a desperate prime minister, and it is surely time for Gordon's peers show to end.

Margareta Pagano is business editor of 'The Independent on Sunday'

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Consultant - London - £65,000 OTE.

£65000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Engineer - central London ...

Recruitment Genius: Physiotherapist / Sports Therapist

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Physiotherapist / Sports Ther...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Advisor

£8 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives / Advisors are required...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operative

£14000 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Day In a Page

Read Next
One 200ml bottle of codeine linctus contains three times the equivalent level of morphine you'd get in casualty if you broke your wrist  

The ‘war on drugs’ consistently ignores its greatest enemy: over-the-counter painkillers

Janet Street-Porter
The author contemplating what could have been  

I was a timid, kind, gentle-natured child, later to be spurned and humiliated – in short, the perfect terrorist-in-waiting

Howard Jacobson
Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable