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Media Stories: 09/07/2007 - Kitty Ussher's Bio - She fought for the euro; now one of Brown’s stars will be the City’s champion

She fought for the euro; now one of Brown’s stars will be the City’s champion

From The Times July 9, 2007

Kitty Ussher may not be a well-known name yet, but the new Economic Secretary to the Treasury won admirers as a DTI adviser

If no one has a harsh word to say for Kitty Ussher, the new Economic Secretary to the Treasury, this could be because few in the business world have heard of her. The new Minister for the City is among the young hopefuls raised to the lower rungs of the Gordon Brown Government to make their way or founder.

Ms Ussher, 36 and an MP for just two years, has drawn some sniping from the Tories for her earlier work as chief economist of Britain in Europe, which campaigned for the euro. How could someone who wanted the pound scrapped and has spoken in support of tax harmonisation across the European Union expect to speak for the City, they asked?

To be fair, the euro had its supporters in the City at the time, around the turn of the century. And Ms Ussher has spoken up against harmonisation. “There are no plans to harmonise European Union rates of VAT, income tax or company tax,” she said in a speech in 1999.

However, the MP for Burnley will arrive in the City trailing an aura of Europhilism. The Britain in Europe job was her most high-profile in a career that started as a parliamentary researcher, took in the Economist Intelligence Unit and led, before her election, to being a special adviser to Patricia Hewitt at the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), a post that marked her out as on the fast track to political success.

The new Treasury minister says: “My first priority as I get my feet under the desk is to listen to the views of as many financial services stakeholders as it’s physically possible to do.

The message I’m getting from them is they want more of the same – a government that ensures financial stability, promotes enterprise and fights their corner on the global stage.

“The previous City Minister, Ed Balls, was a great champion of the City. I intend to be the same. The financial services industry in London, Edinburgh or Leeds faces many challenges as the pace of globalisation accelerates. My role is to work with the industry to ensure the competitiveness of the City is increased as these challenges are met and that it builds on its existing position as the world’s leading international financial centre.”

So it’s steady as you go? One hardly expects significant policy changes right now. “This Government is rightly proud of our City’s success,” she says. “My job is to make sure we respect and promote its interests in everything we do, at home and abroad.”

And Europe? “Europe is an opportunity for the City, not a problem,” Ms Ussher says. “Through leadership, the UK can play a pivotal role in shaping the European financial services agenda. I believe the Government and industry, by working together, have already done this in the wholesale markets arena and it is vital we continue to play this role in forthcoming discussions on supervision and retail financial services. I am proud and delighted to have an opportunity to use my experience to play a part in this process as a member of the Government at such a critical time.”

Ms Ussher was educated at St Paul’s and bears, say those that know her, that suggestion of a will to succeed that the school tends to inculcate in its pupils. She went to Balliol, Oxford, and then did a masters in economics at Birkbeck. If this fails to provide the grounding to master the more technical issues affecting the City, she can always turn to her accountant husband, Pete Colley.

She has lived in South London since graduation and maintains a property there, although her website makes clear that the family home is in Burnley. The “Kitty” was never an affectation but reflects the Irish roots of her father, Patrick Ussher, a doctor. Her mother is a headmistress. The two are now separated. Peter Bottomley, the Tory MP, is her mother’s brother, although Ms Ussher is not thought to be close to his wife, and her aunt by marriage, Virginia, the former Health Secretary and the more high-profile politician of the Bottomleys.

Ms Ussher was for four years a councillor on her home turf of Lambeth and in 2003 began to seek a parliamentary seat. She identified Burnley and, although there is no direct train from London, spent every weekend there. She met some initial opposition, as an outsider, and a Southerner to boot, but overcame it, friends say, by courting the less active members of the constituency party for their votes. “I saw ten members a weekend, every weekend, for a year,” she recalled later. “I had spies everywhere.”

The MP gave birth to her daughter, Lizzie, a month after her 2005 election – in Burnley General Hospital, her website notes conspicuously. She was active in a battle to save the hospital’s accident and emergency unit. Its role would have gone to nearby Blackburn, Jack Straw’s seat. The campaign, only partly successful, in that the unit was downgraded, included protestors, led by Ms Ussher, visting the then Health Secretary in London. Access may not have been hard; the minister was her old boss, Patricia Hewitt, although the ultimate decision did not rest with her.

Ms Ussher has served on the Commons Public Accounts Committee and has acquired a reputation as a loyal supporter of Tony Blair and then as a “Blairite for Brown”, one of those effortlessly transferring their loyalty.

One who recalls her earlier days says: “She very skillfully left the European thing behind – it wasn’t a cause to build your career on. She’s clever and ambitious, but not nakedly so.”

One friend she will have in the City is Stephen Haddrill, director-general of the Association of British Insurers, who was on the DTI’s board when she was there. “She’s just a great person to work with,” he says. “She’s great fun, a chirpy, happy woman. She doesn’t get worked up about silly stuff – there are no great tantrums.”

Someone else with her at the DTI recalls: “As a policy special adviser she was the first choice. She was one of the best and brightest people at Britain in Europe. She’s one of the cleverest people I’ve ever worked with. She’s a very rigorous and determined person. It was great for Patricia to have someone who knew the issues inside out.”

Although circumspect on the issue, Ms Ussher is not thought to be a strong supporter of the war in Iraq, a view perhaps influenced by the big Muslim vote in Burnley. Her majority of 5,778 over the Liberal Democrats is not seen as impregnable. There is a further complication of a strong BNP presence. Mr Haddrill says: “We have to recognise she will have to spend a bit of time there.”

Ms Ussher’s first City engagement is today, at a London First event at Merrill Lynch. “I think she will be a natural ally to the City,” a former colleague says. “If they don’t know her, they soon will.”


Born: March 18, 1971 Education: Balliol College, Oxford, BA (PPE); Birbeck College, London, MSc (Economics) Career: 1993-97: shadow DTI researcher. 1997-98: editor/analyst, Economist Intelligence Unit. 1999-2000: economist, Centre for Economic Reform. 2000-01: chief economist, Britain in Europe. 2001-04: special adviser to Patricia Hewitt at the DTI, specialising in world trade, industrial policy, manufacturing policy and energy. 2005: MP for Burnley Personal: Married with one daughter

Kitty UssherKitty Ussher MP
Economic Secretary to the Treasury
Labour MP for Burnley
Majority: 5778 (over Liberal Democrats)

An economist by profession, Kitty Ussher is well placed to take on her new role as Economic Secretary to the Treasury.

Elected at the 2005 General Election as Member of Parliament for Burnley, Ms Ussher has made swift progress to a ministerial position and will be responsible for banking, insurance, and Financial Services Authority and financial services tax issues; anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing; personal savings policy; foreign exchange reserves and debt management policy, with responsibility for National Savings and Investment, Debt Management Office and Government Actuaries Department; support to Chancellor on EU and wider international finance issues; EMU preparations; support to Chief Secretary on public spending issues including long-term challenges for public spending and preparation of Comprehensive Spending Review and selected Cabinet Committees; support to Chancellor on macro-economic and economic policy issues; Finance Bill. Prior to her recent promotion, Ms Ussher was Parliamentary Private Secretary to Margaret Hodge as Minister of State at the Department of Trade & Industry.

On the 7th December 2006, Ms Ussher responded to comments made by Dr Tony Wright (Cannock Chase, Labour) about the “more than 100,000 constituents in this position– (who) have lost some, or in a number of cases all, of the occupational pensions which they believed to have secured.” To which Ms Ussher replied that she had listened with “extreme interest and some concern”. She went on to ask for further clarification of the point.

Ms Ussher was born in Aylesbury, and after spending part of her childhood in Ireland, attended Balliol College, Oxford from which she graduated in Philosophy, Politics & Economics in 1993. Her first job was as Secretary to Labour MP Paul Boateng (1993 to 1994) from which she moved to the position of researcher for the MPs Martin O’Neill, Kim Howells and Adam Ingram for the period until the Labour landslide election of 1997. Ms Ussher did not move with her MPs to government and in 1997 made the move to the Intelligence Unit as an Economist. She was to graduate with a Masters in Economics in 1998, a course which she completed on a part time basis. She subsequently won a job at the Centre for European Reform in 1998, before becoming Chief Economist at (now defunct) ‘Britain in Europe’ in 1998. She was headhunted and made Special Adviser to Patricia Hewitt at the Department of Trade & Industry, a position in which she wrote the government’s first manufacturing strategy.

Ms Ussher published “The Spectre of Tax Harmonisation, Centre for European Reform’ in 2000. As well as her membership of Amicus, she is a member of the Co-operative Party, the Fabian Society and SERA (the Labour Environment Campaign).

Her extra-parliamentary activities interests include hill walking and supporting Burnley Football Club, of which she is a member. Ms Ussher is married and gave birth to a daughter shortly after her election as an MP in 2005.