Cameron to civil servants: Get to work

By Alex Stevenson

David Cameron has fired up the civil servants in a speech at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Bis) by telling them to “get down to work”.

The prime minister visited the department run until Tuesday by Peter Mandelson to praise its new head, the Liberal Democrats’ Vince Cable.

Mr Cameron was yet to unveil his team of junior ministers in the department but said three more appointments could be expected soon. David Willetts has already been confirmed as the higher education minister.

“I am expecting great things of you in this department,” Mr Cameron told civil servants.

“We have great political leadership in both [the Treasury and Bis]. I want you all to get down to work to make sure we send a big signal: this country is open for business.”

Accompanied by the country’s most senior civil servant, Sir Gus O’Donnell, Mr Cameron reassured officials about the positive initial relationship between the two governing parties.

He praised Dr Cable as “an absolute star in terms of economic policy and economic thinking” and added with Mr Willetts – known as ‘Two-Brains’ – “you already have some of the top talent that is available in parliament”.

Mr Cameron also sought to reassure civil servants by telling them he intended to increase the spell ministers spend in departments above the present 15-month average.

“I know the British civil service is an incredible machine,” he added.

“It requires the right coordination and the right leadership… but it is a great machine.”

Dr Cable said “collaboration” was “what we’re about” in his first remarks to his department.

“I think I’ve threatened to abolish you, but I’ve learned the error of my ways,” he joked, to laughter, before adding: “Things are going to change because government’s going to work in a different way.

“As far as this department’s concerned the immediate issue is dealing with the very difficult choices the government’s got to make.

“In the long-term we’ve got to have a vision about how the country’s going to make a living, basically.”

Dr Cable is one of five Lib Dem Cabinet ministers. The biggest tensions within the first coalition government for 65 years could come in terms of relations between his department and the Treasury, headed by Conservative chancellor George Osborne.

It appears he had expected to be given responsibility over dealing with the banks. Mr Osborne was eventually handed the chairmanship of the Cabinet committee tasked with commissioning a report into the viability of splitting banks’ investment and retail arms.

“I don’t quite know how that got out,” Dr Cable said with reference to the committee chairmanship. “I did expect to have a substantial influence [over banks], which is what this [committee] provides.”

Dr Cable admitted there had been “misunderstanding of the machinery of government”, insisting he still wanted a “genuine joint exercise”.