John Glen is confident that banks will be trading easily with Europe after Brexit
Eight weeks have passed since a nerve agent attack drew the eyes of the world to Salisbury in Wiltshire. With a multimillion-pound decontamination effort under way local business leaders are trying to spread the word: the city remains open for business.
It is a message the local member of parliament is accustomed to delivering. As City minister, John Glen knows better than most how the clouds of uncertainty that gathered over the Square Mile after Britain’s vote to leave the European Union have remained for almost two years. “The fog is clearing,” Mr Glen said on Monday in a speech before members of the financial services sector at the Guildhall in London.
In Whitehall a few hours later, in a spacious second-floor office in the Treasury, his positivity was unwavering. “The prospects look good. There’s a good degree of optimism in the economy.”
With less than a year to go before Brexit Mr Glen, 44, is confident that City banks and institutions will be “trading easily” with their European counterparts from day one. He bristled slightly when asked about the impact on financial services staff of departing from the EU. “It depends on which assumptions you use,” he said, brushing off the latest Bank of England prediction that more than 5,000 City jobs could move by next March. “I’m not really focused on the negative outcomes of this. I expect there to be evolving clarity in the next months and I imagine that will reinforce the global potential of London to continue to prosper.”
The economic secretary to the Treasury is expected to play good cop and bad cop in the Square Mile, banging the drum for the industry but banging heads, too. On gender pay, for example, Mr Glen believes that there is much work to do with public disclosures over the past year revealing “cultural inhibitors to equal treatment of women” in some corners.
Having required employers with more than 250 staff to reveal their pay gaps, the government must retain an open mind over what to do about it, he said. “But I’m in favour of pointing out the gaps, the weaknesses, the deficiencies and encouraging industry to come forward with solutions.”
The fact that the FTSE 100 constituents have only half a dozen female chief executives demonstrates that there is a lot of progress to be made, he said. “But I’m confident that progress will be made because there is an understanding in the City that it can’t be tolerated and that massive proportions of the talent pool are being lost because there hasn’t been the focus on how to remove the biases that have existed historically.”
Mr Glen could perhaps relate to those impatient for promotion, having studied for a master’s degree in international security and strategy at King’s College London while a backbench MP. “I did a third degree there because I was getting a bit weary of waiting for ministerial office,” he confessed, with a laugh.
He caught the political bug young, on a visit to parliament aged 11. As an intern in the 1997 general election for Gary Streeter and Michael Bates, now Lord Bates, two fledgling Tory MPs, he noted that his work on the latter’s campaign “helped him lose his seat”. Having lost his own race in Plymouth in the 2001 election, Mr Glen was selected as Tory candidate in the safe seat of Salisbury.