Tory peer Lord Young, ‘Mr Entrepreneur of Whitehall’ in Thatcher’s cabinet dies aged 90

Lord Young

A Tory peer regarded as a ‘favourite’ of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and responsible for many start-up and support initiatives for entrepreneurs has died aged 90.

Lord David Ivor Young, of Graffham, was a high-powered businessman who turned his considerable City talents to good use as a Cabinet minister in Mrs Thatcher’s government.

A Conservative Party spokesperson confirmed the death of the peer, who became secretary of state for employment in 1985, before being appointed secretary of state for trade and industry after the 1987 election.

At the latter department, he left an overwhelming impression that he wanted to run his department as a private enterprise, and he quickly acquired a reputation as the ‘Mr Entrepreneur of Whitehall’.

Sometimes referred to as a favourite of Mrs Thatcher, Lord Young began his rise through politics as chair of the manpower services commission and was appointed to the Lords in 1984.

So fond was she of Lord Young, Mrs Thatcher once said: ‘Other people come to me with problems. David Young comes to me with his achievements.’

Journalists replaced the last word with ‘solutions’ and a pervasive myth was born.

In the Cabinet as in business, Lord Young rarely let up on a gruelling routine of international travel – and was seen as the warm-up man for UK plc.

Lord Young was a ‘get-things-done’ man, who did not like to see political niceties and protocol obstruct what he regarded as perfectly sound and honourable business practices.

And yet, despite his presence as a key figure in the Cabinet during Mrs Thatcher’s string of privatisations during the 1980s, the peer nevertheless later attacked the John Major government’s decision to privatise British Coal and British Rail.

He became secretary of state for employment in 1985, before being appointed secretary of state for trade and industry after the 1987 election.

Later he would serve as an enterprise adviser to Conservative prime minister David Cameron, continuing to retain a key interest in education and youth employment.

One of the advisors that Young appointed, Richard Alvin, founder of the Capital Business Media group – owners of Business Matters, spoke about his time on the board representing the UK SME sector saying: “Lord Young who was in his late 70’s at the time had more energy, enthusiasm and laser focus for business startups than many in the room who were a third of his age.”

Richard Alvin with Lord Young and TV Dragon James Caan
(L- R) Tech City founder Eric Van der Kleij, TV Dragon James Caan, Richard Alvin, Lord Young, and Starling Founder Anne Boden

“When you proposed something he took the initial kernel through three or so development phases and was able to see if ideas had mileage or would not achieve the desired long-term desired effect in minutes. There were also times when he took ideas that he endorsed to the Whitehall Mandarins, David Cameron or the then chancellor George Osborne which were rejected and he came back and explained why the ideas were rejected, the fact that he disagreed, and why we needed to look to come at the problem from a different perspective to get it approved.”

Amongst other investments Young also served as Chairman and a founder investor in the software as a service accounting business KashFlow, founded by Duane Jackson who had got kicked out of school at 15 and, five years later, was arrested in Atlanta, Georgia, for trafficking 6,500 ecstasy tablets, served two years in prison in the UK.

Speaking in 2013 when the business had been sold to software company IRIS for a reputed £150 million, Young said: “When I backed the business seven years ago I could see they were offering something truly revolutionary to small businesses. By combining with IRIS they can now take their products to the wider world, with all the marketing and technical support the larger business can bring.”

Upon hearing of the announcement of Lord Young’s passing Jackson tweeted: “I posted on social media yesterday that it was 20 years since I got out of prison. The success I’ve had since is In a very large part due to the support and guidance of my friend, chairman and mentor @TheLordYoung. Very sad to hear of his passing”

Lord Young remained an influential and well-regarded voice on business and politics throughout the following decades, serving as an enterprise adviser to Conservative prime minister David Cameron while also being honoured in 2015 with appointment as a Member of the Order of the Companions of Honour.

But his return to the cut-and-thrust of politics did not always go smoothly and he was forced to quit his advisory role for a short spell after suggesting that the low interest rates during the recession meant that many people ‘had never had it so good’.

He would later return as an adviser and this led to the creation of Start Up Loans Company, The Careers & Enterprise Company, Growth Vouchers and the Small Business Charter.

He championed entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship, and especially the next generation of founders and workers. At an event, you could see him just as engaged and entertained by a fellow peer of the realm as with a young student. He could have rested on his laurels decades ago. Instead, he just kept going.

And despite retiring from the Lords in early 2022, he continued to contribute to public debates with his final article for The Telegraph newspaper published on December 7.

Former Cabinet minister Brandon Lewis was among those who paid tribute to Lord Young, tweeting: ‘Such sad news. A lovely man who always had time for new MPs and inexperienced ministers to pick his brain.’