Thank you for asking me to be your Minister for Trade after the election. It is a huge task to turn round the UK’s flagging export performance. Since May, we have agreed a new whole of government export strategy. UKTI has new leadership and a reform plan which will both cut its own costs and increase the practical and financial support for exporting businesses. However, implementation of all this will take several years. When I accepted the position, I made it clear that I did not want to stay in government for much longer. I now want to move on and it is a good moment for my successor to take on this task of implementation.
It has been a pleasure to work with you for the 10 years of your party leadership and premiership. When I was Party Chairman, we drove radical change through a party that had lost 3 general elections and seemed out of kilter with modern Britain. Our subsequent work in opposition to prepare for government ensured that our party was better equipped than any in history to implement its programme.
As Minister for the Cabinet Office throughout the last Parliament, we cut the costs of government in 2014-2015 by nearly £20 billion compared with Labour’s last year. We saw the Civil Service downsized like-for-like by over 20%. We exited numerous properties that were redundant. We started to transform government procurement by importing and developing much tougher commercial capability, and switching the focus from process and compliance to delivering the best outcome. We set up the world-leading Major Projects Leadership Academy and the Major Projects Authority, which have begun to transform huge government projects, saving billions and delivering much more effective performance.
We created over 100 public service mutuals, spin-outs from the public sector that saw a dramatic improvement in their productivity and quality. All of this was long overdue; and none of it is complete. I am confident that with the right level of commitment and attention to detail the government could achieve at least as much again in the years ahead.
We also moved from being a government infamous around the world for the most expensive and least successful IT projects to being the world leader in digital government, with our approach emulated in Australia, the US and many other countries. Our transparency and open data programme led to the UK being ranked the most open government in the world by several international bodies. All of this has helped nurture a flourishing tech start-up culture.
Finally, our work on social investment has made the UK the world leader in this field. Big Society Capital, which we set up in less than 2 years after the idea had lain unimplemented for a decade, is the world’s first social investment bank.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to serve and for your commitment and support for what were often controversial reforms. It has been a pleasure to work with you, and I look forward to continuing to support you and the government in the years ahead.
Thank you very much for your kind letter today, informing me of your decision to step down from the government. I know that this will not have been an easy decision for you to have made – especially following so many years of exemplary service on our front bench – but I understand completely your decision to move on and you have my support in doing so.
It is difficult to adequately pay tribute to such a substantial political career: almost 30 years dedicated public service, including over 25 years on the Conservative front bench, over half of which have been in government. You have served continuously as part of my own front bench team since I became Party Leader in 2005, with a decade as part of the Shadow Cabinet and Cabinet.
When you stood down as a Member of Parliament last year, I had no hesitation in nominating you to become a Conservative peer in the House of Lords to enable you to continue your public service. And by appointing you as Minister of State for Trade and Investment, you have also been able to continue bringing your considerable experience to our work in government.
In this important role, you have helped transform the government’s export strategy; provided key leadership to help guide and expand UKTI’s responsibilities; and in doing so, you have put a plan in place to turn around our export performance, ensuring UK businesses succeed in international markets, and encouraging overseas companies to look at the UK as the best place to set up or expand their business. As you say in your letter, this is just the start and there is still much work to do – but your role has been instrumental in putting us on the path to success, and I am incredibly grateful for all you have done in this post over the past year.
I would also like to express my gratitude for your exceptional work as Minister for the Cabinet Office during the last Parliament. You cite some genuine achievements in your letter that you can take real pride in. In particular, your efficiency drive was helping save the taxpayer almost £20 billion a year by the end of the period. What is more, your work to set up the Government Digital Service and put rocket boosters under the digital reform agenda was – as I said recently – one of the great unsung triumphs of the last Parliament.
On a political level, through these roles in government, and previously in opposition, your commitment to the Conservative Party has been unwavering. You have always looked for ways to secure our party’s future and have campaigned fervently in every set of elections over the years. As Party Chairman, you laid the foundations for what we have achieved as a political organisation over the past decade, putting us on a footing to return to government and leading the way in professionalising our party’s organisation at CCHQ and around the country.
So whether in government, in opposition, or when Party Chairman, you have always looked for opportunities for improvement; driven our policy implementation; and helped shape our future direction. Never one to sit on the sidelines, you have left a legacy to be enormously proud of – and one that will stand the test of time.
Above all, you have always been a good, candid friend, and a tremendously loyal colleague. You have supported me through thick and thin from the very beginning – and that is something I will not forget. I know you will continue your loyal public service from the House of Lords, raising issues of importance to you and the country, and supporting the government and our party as we continue our work to provide security and opportunity for families across Britain.
For now, this comes with my profound thanks for all you have done, and my very best wishes for the future.