Magazine article Public Finance

It's a Tough Job

Magazine article Public Finance

It's a Tough Job

Article excerpt

Yvette Cooper bursts out laughing when I point out she joined the Treasury at an - 1 search for an appropriate word - interesting time. 'Yes, busy,' she smiles.

After almost ten years as a junior minister, Cooper was propelled into the front line in January after Peter Hain's resignation as work and pensions secretary triggered a minor Cabinet reshuffle. As housing minister, Cooper had attended Cabinet meetings but her promotion to chief secretary to the Treasury, following Andy Burnham's move to Culture, Media and Sport, gave her full Cabinet status for the first time.

Her arrival in the Cabinet also helped to improve both the gender balance and youthfulness of Gordon Brown's top team. She became the sixth woman in the Cabinet, and, at the age of 38 (she turned 39 in March) another member under 40.

Despite being thrust into a department struggling to get to grips with a global economic downturn, as well as one or two homegrown problems such as the nationalisation of Northern Rock and the fallout from the abolition of the 10p tax rate, she's clearly loving the job.

'The fascinating thing about the Treasury, especially the role of the chief secretary, is you get to look at all different kinds of policy areas, all kinds of departments' work' she says.

'One minute you'll be having a conversation about health, the next thing a conversation about police, the next minute a conversation about support for local communities. Such a different mix of things, it just makes it fascinating. It's a really interesting job.'

It's surprising Cooper has only just found herself at the Treasury, given that the discipline of economics runs so strongly throughout her CV.

A graduate of the academically prestigious Balliol College, Oxford, where she studied politics, philosophy and economics, Cooper also has a masters in economics from the London School of Economics.

In her early, pre-Commons career, she worked as an economics researcher for the late Labour leader John Smith, then shadow chancellor, and subsequently as policy adviser to Harriet Harman, who shadowed the chief secretary's role. After a spell as a research associate with the LSE's Centre for Economic Performance, she moved into journalism in 1995, working as an economics columnist and leader writer for the Independent.

She speaks clearly and confidently about the global economic conditions that have conspired to create a 'difficult time' for the Treasury.

'We've got these two big world problems: rising oil prices and the credit crunch, as a result of some very unwise lending decisions by banks. We've now got serious lending problems across the world this year, as well as world inflationary pressures, and that is going to create problems for every country.

'Of course, that creates new challenges in terms of responding to that and we haven't had those kinds of challenges for many years. The key question is: how do you respond and how do you get through it?'

Government can help in two ways, she says - by boosting household incomes with schemes such as the Winter Fuel Allowance, and by trying to get to the source of the problem.

'For example, what do we need to do to increase oil supply in the short term to deal with some of the pressures on oil prices,' she says.

'You have to look at such a range of different things, both internationally and very locally, in order to respond to what are difficult challenges. …

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