Government’s ‘buddy’ scheme has now paired ministers with 83 global firms

Sajid javid

The Government is stepping up attempts to forge closer ties with big overseas firms by providing privileged access to Cabinet and other senior ministers, reports The Telegraph.

The Sunday Telegraph has learnt that some of the world’s biggest multi-nationals, including Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and defence giant Lockheed Martin, have been added to the ministerial “buddy” scheme since May’s general election. The scheme is part of an effort by the government’s trade agency, UK Trade & Investment, to give companies and the Government greater access to one another.

There are now 83 companies with direct lines to 16 ministers in UKTI’s “strategic relations” programme, which has expanded rapidly since its foundation in 2011 and swelled from 76 businesses after the election in May. All seven of the new additions since May have overseas connections.

Other new entrants to the scheme included Associated British Ports, which is owned by numerous global investors, the Swiss engineer ABB and the Hong Kong-based telecoms outfit PCCW. Executives at Tata, the Indian firm that is struggling to revive its British steel plants, have been given access to the business secretary Sajid Javid, in addition to the ties already enjoyed by its car subsidiary Jaguar Land Rover.

The little-known programme invites both British and foreign corporate giants with potential to boost the UK economy to form direct relationships with ministers and civil servants.

The world’s biggest fuel companies feature prominently, with energy secretary Amber Rudd working with six firms including BP, Shell and the Norwegian state-owned Statoil, according to a full list of participants that was quietly published in the last week of the parliamentary term.

The Chinese media group Huawei and the US internet behemoths Facebook and Google are granted privileged access to the culture minister Ed Vaizey and other top officials.

It has also emerged that the recently-appointed Treasury minister Harriet Baldwin is now partnered with the insurance groups Aviva, Aon and Prudential, while the new small business and industry minister Anna Soubry co-ordinates relationships with some of the world’s biggest car companies including BMW, Ford and Nissan. She replaces Matt Hancock.

The companies selected by UKTI are paired up with senior civil servants and a government minister to give both sides a better understanding of how the other operates. The businesses are told that the minister will be their point of contact but not their champion.

“Major investors and exporters have been selected principally on their ability or potential to contribute to the UK economy. Priority will be given to relationships where Government can add most value, often those where the relationship is most complex,” said a UKTI spokesman this weekend.

Some ministers are in closer contact with their chosen firms than others, and opinions vary on the value of these relationships. UKTI has estimated that the companies involved invested in 82 British projects in the last financial year, creating or safeguarding 18,000 jobs, although one firm suggested to The Sunday Telegraph that it would have made its spending commitments regardless of ministerial access.

Newly-published records show that Mr Javid held meetings with 34 different companies and business groups in the five months after his appointment as Business Secretary. Seven of these meetings involved companies with a UKTI strategic relationship, although only one firm – General Electric – has specifically been paired up with him. Trade minister Lord Maude had more than 100 business meetings in the three months to September, with less than 10 involving any of the UKTI-chosen firms.

Department for Business records do not disclose other forms of contact, such as emails or phone calls.