The Department for International Trade has been forced to deny that the preferred candidate for the government’s top trade role turned down the post due to a disagreement over pay.
The ministry issued a strongly worded comment after former Labour cabinet minister Lord Adonis said the government’s preferred appointment as chief trade advisor could not be made due to a pay dispute.
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In an article for the Guardian, Adonis said that the department, who appointed former New Zealand government trade official Crawford Falconer to the post in June, had initially wanted Canadian Jonathan Fried for the post, but he “turned the job down after a pay dispute”, meaning it had to “make do with an official from tiny New Zealand”.
A response to the article issued on the department’s website said it was incorrect to say that Falconer was not the first choice for the post, and also said that Adonis was wrong to say the department currently had “virtually no” trade lawyers.
The statement said the department had been formed by prime minister Theresa May in July 2016 to support UK businesses to break into overseas markets and implement new global trading arrangements as the UK leaves the European Union.
“To do this we need to build a new major capability which was not previously required in the UK government,” the statement continued. “We have made huge progress in doing so over the past year, and shall continue to do so over coming years.”
It added that to suggest Falconer was not the top candidate for the trade post, which also serves as the department’s second permanent secretary, was “completely false”.
Since the department’s formation, its headcount has increased to a global workforce of over 3,200 people, according to the update, with the trade policy team having increased from 45 to over 300 today. In addition there are currently over 20 lawyers working specifically on trade issues at the DIT, which will grow as the UK enters further talks and negotiations.
The department also insisted there was significant demand for roles at all levels, with one recruitment round for 96 roles having received 1,608 applications. The advert for Falconer’s post received 58 applications, while recruitment for the department’s permanent secretary, a role won by Antonia Romeo, received 111 applications, it stated.
Adonis’s article comes after parliamentary questions tabled by him revealed the department had paid recruitment companies £1.15m to find senior staff since its formation last July.