Just weeks after the publication of the Stern Review into the economics of climate change, the author has quit the Treasury. Sir Nicholas Stern, Second Permanent Secretary and a former head of the Government Economic Service, will leave in March for a new job at the London School of Economics.
Sir Nicholas was brought into the Treasury in 2003 as part of an effort to wean Gordon Brown off political advisers. It was hoped that he would add some genuine, impartial economic advice. But this entailed a few too many home truths; Treasury insiders have said that Sir Nicolas’s long-term growth predictions were not as rosy as Mr. Brown’s.
On Wednesday the Chancellor gave his pre-budget report to the House. The environmental measures were weak – road transport is still the cheapest it has been for a quarter of a century – and it is believed that Sir Nicholas had to fight hard even for these.
The pre-budget report is the final nail in the coffin of Sir Nicolas’s efforts to inject some greenery into this Government. Brown’s unwillingness to move from taxing work to taxing pollution shows him to be unimaginative and unconcerned with environmental issues.
Sir Nicolas’s departure also highlights the Chancellor’s dislike of advice from beyond his inner circle of acolytes. Any hopes that the era of sofa government will end with Tony Blair’s retirement look sadly misplaced.