Magazine article Public Finance

Spirit of Enterprise

Magazine article Public Finance

Spirit of Enterprise

Article excerpt

It is Enterprise Week. Don't tell me your heart didn't beat just a little faster on Monday morning knowing that fact. Around the country there were fairs and master-classes, conferences and competitions to mark the occasion. Funded by a grant from the Department of Trade and Industry, Britain's business organisations have pulled together a week of activities to persuade the young to 'be enterprising'.

Lest it be thought that this was not enough to show the government was doing what it could to promote enterprise, Chancellor Gordon Brown foreshadowed a number of initiatives to send Britain's most promising entrepreneurs to see how things are done in the US.

One has to question the notion that government can just coax people into a life of business. One also has to wonder whether it is not a bit rich for Brown to attempt to cast himself as the founder of British entrepreneurship, as if the spirit of enterprise did not exist before 1997.

One might further linger over the various budgetary and regulatory measures that have made life harder for business in Britain (while at the same time tipping one's hat to those that have helped, such as simplification of VAT compliance, R&D tax credits). But leaving aside the issue of whether Enterprise Week will make a crumb of difference, it is all perfectly worthwhile and harmless.

While all this was going on this week, over at the Department of Trade and Industry staff were facing up to the news that Sir Brian Bender, the new permanent secretary, had decided that what the ministry really needed now was a review of what it does to see if it could do it better.

This might be considered as demonstrating an admirable continuity in government policy. For, along with barrelling secretaries of state in and out at an average of one every 18 months, the DTI has become synonymous with introspective reviews. Indeed, one might go so far as to say that if there is one thing the DTI has got really good at over the years, it is reviewing what it does.

Since the days of Lord Young and Sir Nicholas Ridley, it has been routinely asking itself what it is for. In the last Parliament alone, Patricia Hewitt announced a review in 2001 and published a strategy in 2003 and a separate five-year plan a year later.

A cynic would suggest that any organisation that so regularly has to ask what it does and how it does it, probably doesn't do anything much. There are many indeed who would call for the DTI's abolition. One can make a case either way but most of the department's functions are going to have to be done by someone, so a further rearranging of portfolios seems neither here nor there. …

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