Sajid Javid: Calling a strike will be harder

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Media captionSajid Javid: New strike laws "are sensible changes"

He's been in the job less than 24 hours - a point he keeps reminding me of as we chat - but Sajid Javid is already clear on the direction of travel he wants to take as David Cameron's new business secretary.

Pro-enterprise and deregulation will be his watch words, bringing a distinctly Conservative flavour to the top of the department.

It's no coincidence that during his rapid rise up the ministerial ranks he has had a picture of Margaret Thatcher on his office wall.

And, let's not forget, Mr Javid will be the first Conservative business secretary for 18 years.

His in-tray certainly contains its fair share of controversies - the European Union in/out referendum, new rules on strikes in the public sector and airport expansion will be all jostling for his time.

Essential public services

The Conservative election manifesto pledged to tighten the laws on strikes, demanding a 50% turnout in strike ballots.

The plans, which will be included in the Queen's Speech at the end of the month, will also demand that any strike affecting "essential" public services such as health, education, transport and the fire service, would need the backing of 40% of those eligible to vote.

Unions have condemned the plans, with Dave Prentis of Unison saying that the new rules would make it "virtually impossible" for anyone in the public sector to go on strike.

"The changes we want to make to strike laws are absolutely proportionate and sensible," Mr Javid told me.

"It was something we would have liked to have done earlier but it was blocked by the Lib Dems. What people are fed up with is strike action that hasn't been properly supported by members of the union.

"Especially when it comes to essential public services, think of the impact [a strike] has - transport, the health service - on ordinary people going about their daily jobs. I think they should be in people's minds as well when these kind of decisions are made."

I ask him the obvious question - will this make going on strike in the public sector harder?

"Of course, by increasing the thresholds it will certainly increase the hurdles that need to be crossed but it is the right thing to do, it is the fair thing to do."


It's all part of what Mr Javid sees as a relentlessly pro-business approach.

The son of Pakistani immigrants who arrived in Britain - it's been reported - with £1 to their name, Mr Javid is quick to mention his background as a way of explaining his approach to the new job.

"Business is something that has been with me throughout my life," the former banker tells me.

"I grew up living above my father's shop, he was a bus driver who then had market stalls, then we had a family shop. I believe passionately in free enterprise, it is the lifeblood of any successful economy.

"There are lots of reasons for governments to be involved in making rules and regulations, but there are also lots of reasons for governments to stay out of the way. Sometimes I think they can get too involved and actually make things worse rather than better.

"I believe in more deregulation, we are committed to reducing the burden of regulation on businesses."

'British people decide'

Of course, one of the most pressing issues for the many businesses that will be beating a path to Mr Javid's door will be Britain's relationship with the European Union.

Mr Javid is no europhile and despite repeated questions, he refuses to say whether he would back Britain staying in the European Union if suitable reforms were agreed.

"We need to settle this issue. The right way to end the uncertainty is to have this referendum and let the British people decide," he said.

"I am confident about getting the reforms. Because if you look at the track record of the Prime Minister, the negotiations he's had in the past and what he has achieved, it suggests that we will be successful in these negotiations.

"I don't think anyone, including me, can make a decision on what will actually happen in that referendum until we know what the results are.

"But it doesn't really matter what I think, ultimately it is a decision for the British people and that's the right way to do it."

I try asking again - with the right reforms in place, would he back Britain remaining in the European Union?

"We have to go about discussing those reforms first and see where we end up," he replies carefully.

"I want the best outcome for Britain and until we have started that process it is not possible to say."

In the past, Mr Javid has said that leaving the EU "isn't something we should be scared of". Does he still believe that?

"I've said that and I would say it again."

Airport issue

On the vexed issue of expanding airport capacity in the south-east of England and whether there should be a new runway at either Heathrow or Gatwick - or neither - Mr Javid is diplomatic.

As a former backer of the Free Enterprise Group of MPs, he did support more runway capacity at Heathrow in 2012.

But that was before he was in the Cabinet.

Now, he will only talk of the need for more "capacity" in the South East.

"Whether it is ultimately going to be Heathrow or Gatwick, that is a decision we haven't yet taken as a government," he said.

BBC Charter renewal

Finally, we talk about the BBC, which came under Mr Javid's departmental responsibilities in his previous role as culture secretary.

Yesterday, David Cameron announced that John Whittingdale would replace Mr Javid at the Department of Culture, putting him in charge of the renewal of the BBC's Charter and the future of the licence fee.

Mr Whittingdale has described the licence fee as "worse than a poll tax" and "unsustainable".

I ask Mr Javid whether Mr Whittingdale's appointment shows the BBC is likely to be in for a tough ride over the course of this Parliament.

The Daily Telegraph said this morning that the Tories were going "to war" against the BBC.

"He's a big fan of the BBC," Mr Javid says of Mr Whittingdale.

"And he also understands when you have had so many changes in the broadcast environment over many years - just the technology changes have been phenomenal - you need to look at all the issues and get a long-term sustainable funding arrangement for the BBC."

'Political spectrum'

The election campaign has brought some complaints from politicians, Mr Javid included, that the BBC was not always as balanced as it should have been, criticism that has been robustly dealt with by the corporation.

Mr Javid says that the election coverage should be looked at as part of the charter renewal process.

"Throughout the election campaign there were lots of people that had views on whether it was fair coverage or not, on all sides of the political spectrum," he said.

"As a politician I don't think it's a judgement I can reasonably make myself, I think these are the kind of things that should be looked at independently.

"The review that will happen [on election coverage] is the charter review and that is something that looks at a number of issues and I think that's the right way to do this.

"Of course there was coverage throughout the election and not just from the BBC that will irritate you and I don't think that's surprising to hear, that happens."