Exclusive: Cameron Advisers Furious Over Axe
Some of Britain's most senior executives have reacted furiously to David Cameron's shake-up of his coterie of business advisers, warning the "shabby" handling of the move risked deterring them from accepting future public service roles.
I disclosed earlier this week how the Prime Minister had decided to remove Justin King, chief executive of J Sainsbury and a vocal critic of the coalition Government, and Paul Walsh, Diageo chief executive, from his Business Advisory Group.
Sir Martin Sorrell, the boss of WPP Group, Sam Laidlaw, chief executive of Centrica, and Sir Mike Rake, chairman of BT and easyJet, are also relinquishing their roles on the group two years after it was established.
I have learned new details of the process through which Downing Street decided to part company with some of these captains of industry. Some of the individuals stepping down from the group say they only knew their roles were coming to an end when Sky News reported the shake-up on Wednesday.
"The whole process has been abysmally handled," one departing member said. "It has been shabby and has fomented a negative attitude to Cameron and suggests that he is totally unable to cope with dissenting voices."
None of the outgoing members would comment on the record, with some saying the discussions of the advisory group were private.
Nonetheless, the scale of unhappiness among these executives risks opening a wider rift between the Government and major private sector employers at a time when the economy can ill-afford it.
The committee was established to provide a forum for Mr Cameron to discuss economic, employment and long-term business challenges with executives responsible for employing more than one million people in Britain.
Chancellor George Osborne, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Business Secretary Vince Cable also attend the quarterly meetings, the most recent of which took place last month and examined the skills agenda.
People familiar with this week's overhaul said Tim Luke, a senior aide to Mr Cameron who previously worked as an investment banker at Barclays, called a number of the advisory group members about 10 days ago to inform them the Prime Minister was poised to make changes to the group.
Mr Luke did not tell those individuals that they faced being removed as members, according to insiders.
The telephone calls followed a discussion between Mr Cameron and several of the members - including Mr Laidlaw and Sir Mike - in which the Prime Minister was told of concerns that the group had become large and risked becoming less effective because of the unwieldy nature of discussions.
Letters from the Prime Minister's office are understood to have been received by the outgoing members on Thursday.
An adviser to one of the executives who had received a letter said it thanked the members for their service and their "very valuable contribution ... time and expertise".
"I am making the annual change of membership of the Advisory Group, but I am sure that you will, by now, appreciate my commitment to ensuring that ministers and officials across every part of Government are talking to, and listening to, business as we drive forward our work on reducing the deficit and transforming our economy," a person familiar with the letter's contents told me.
The slimmed-down group will include new members such as Philip Clarke, chief executive of Tesco, and existing members Tidjane Thiam, chief executive of Prudential, Dido Harding, chief executive of TalkTalk, and - more controversially, given the ongoing row about corporate taxes - Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google.
A spokesman for Number 10 said an updated list of the advisory group members would be published in the next week.