Stern Lectures

Sir Nicholas Stern, author of the wildly hyped and widely disparaged Stern Review on the economics of climate change, is leaving Her Majesty’s Treasury:

With embarrassing timing, Sir Nicholas Stern’s departure was announced a day after the Chancellor confounded expectations of a big shift towards a new environmental agenda in his Pre-Budget Report.

Mr Brown’s move to raise taxes on flights and motorists’ fuel were seen as minimum concessions to calls for tougher environmental action and disappointed green campaigners.

One well-placed government source told The Times that Mr Brown had to be persuaded within the Treasury even to take the steps he did, such was his lack of enthusiasm for green taxes.

Sir Nicholas, 60, one of the Chancellor’s most senior officials as Second Permanent Secretary to the Treasury, is to leave in March to return to academic life, taking a chair at the London School of Economics in June.

He was poached in 2003 from the World Bank. But several Whitehall sources told The Times that Mr Brown did not like some of the advice he received from Sir Nicholas, including some “home truths” about long-term trends in the economy, and he never broke into the Chancellor’s tight-knit inner circle.

I said earlier that Sir Nicholas’ failure to consider sensitivities and other scenarios was unethical for a civil servant. It appears his political master agrees with me. It is the duty of British civil servants to provide unpalatable advice when necessary. it is wrong and unprofessional of civil servants to tailor their advice so as to provide unpalatable advice when palatable advice would have been just as justified. By presenting such a biased, unnuanced report, Sir Nicholas put the Chancellor in an embarrassing position. Ministers should never make civil servants scapegoats for their own shortcomings, but nor should civil servants by their poor advice place their ministers in political hot water. Sir Nicholas, it seems, did exactly that.