Big firms to get hotline to ministerial 'buddies'

By Victoria King
Political reporter, BBC News

image captionThe Department for Business said firms had welcomed the idea of a hotline

Plans are under way to give the heads of the UK's 50 top companies a hotline to individual government ministers.

The ministerial "buddies", including Business Secretary Vince Cable, will be just a phone call away for firms like BP, British Gas and GlaxoSmithKline.

The Department for Business said the idea - designed to boost investment - had been welcomed by the companies.

But Labour said it was an admission that big business had "lost confidence" in the government.

The scheme, first reported in the Times newspaper, is being set up by trade and investment minister Lord Green - the former chairman and chief executive of HSBC.

The Department for Business said it was at a "very, very early stage", but there was "a need for strategically important companies to have a single point of contact in the government".

It could be expanded in the future to include more firms.

Ministerial code

Six ministers are expected to take part in the scheme, including Mr Cable, who is said to be in line for a link-up with BP, British Gas and Shell. Before entering politics, Mr Cable worked as chief economist for Shell.

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt is expected to be in touch with communications and information companies, while enterprise minister Mark Prisk is said to be planning to team up with automotive companies like Nissan and Honda, and aerospace firms.

Universities and science minister David Willetts is expected to "buddy up" with healthcare companies like GlaxoSmithKline and Novartis, while Lord Green himself is reportedly set to link up with General Electric.

Lord Sassoon, commercial secretary to the Treasury, is also expected to play a role in the programme.

A spokesman for Lord Green said the scheme would "fit with the ministerial code of conduct to avoid conflicts and potential conflicts of interest".

The Department for Energy and Climate Change said it would build on existing relationships between ministers and business.

"Departments will still talk with their stakeholders during the normal course of business," a spokesman said.

"It does not necessarily follow that the best minister to lead on a company would be the one who was most vulnerable to lobbying from that company."

For Labour, shadow business secretary John Denham said the scheme was "an admission that big companies have completely lost confidence in the ability of government to understand their concerns and priorities".

"But sorting out problems for individual companies is not a substitute for the government working with business to produce a clear vision and growth plan for the UK economy to enable us to compete in the world," he said.

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