Business Review: I Work for ... the Budget Used to Be Just a Concept for Me ; Penny Kerr Works for Digby Jones, Director-General of the Confederation of British Industry

By Sampson, Interview Katie | The Independent (London, England), March 22, 2000 | Go to article overview
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Business Review: I Work for ... the Budget Used to Be Just a Concept for Me ; Penny Kerr Works for Digby Jones, Director-General of the Confederation of British Industry


Sampson, Interview Katie, The Independent (London, England)


Before I joined the CBI, I had no real idea what its function was. I didn't understand that it was non-profitmaking or that it lobbied Government on behalf of British business. The Budget used to be just a concept for me, but since I started working for Digby in January, all of us have been very wrapped up in the CBI's Budget proposals which have been submitted to the Chancellor. The proposals discuss taxes on businesses, which have gone up by pounds 5bn a year during this parliament, and ask for reduction of the business tax take.

For me, the biggest surprise was to see how closely Digby has been working with the Chancellor and how many meetings they have had. For example, ministerial diary secretaries are good at gate- keeping and protective of their boss's time, so one rarely gets a meeting straight away. But in the run-up to the Budget Gordon Brown's office has been the exception.

By chance, Digby and I both started our jobs together, although I've been at the CBI since August 1995. The first thing Digby did was to give me a welcome speech. He said: "We are going to be here together five years and we have a lot to live up to. It's going to be hard work and things have to be done properly, but it's going to be fun, because if a job isn't fun it's not worth doing." He also said he would always defend me because we work together as a team. I appreciated him taking time to explain things I didn't understand rather than ignore me.

I had briefly stood in for his predecessor's secretary, and Adair Turner was a different character, not so outgoing. Former colleagues have told me: "You're so lucky to work for Digby, he's such fun." While I respect him as the director-general, I am glad he is not at all a staid or pretentious man. He is larger than life, flamboyant and entertaining as well as being down to earth.

When he recently got his hair cut the other day he came into the office going: "Hey, look at me, aren't I stunning?" He is already discussing our Christmas celebrations. I think he loves parties. I've never seen him in a bad mood, because he is constantly cheerful.

From the start, I loved my job, particularly when I call VIP's offices they immediately know who Digby is. I find it exciting. I had imagined secretaries of chief executives and ministers to be fierce and to ask: "But who are you?" Instead, we all joke about how impossible it is to find a space in our boss's diaries. Yet the thought I might double-book someone so in demand is still terrifying.

We have been extremely busy. Digby has been meeting Government ministers, members of the Cabinet and their opposition, including William Hague, as well as the Liberal Democrats.

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