10 things you should know about . . . BIS

Posted on Sep 5, 2013

10 things you should know about . . . BIS

From Alan Clark to the ministerial elevator, an insider’s guide to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills at 1 Victoria Street, London.


BIS is one of the largest government departments with a wider remit and more ministers than any department except the Cabinet Office.

In 2012-2013, it spent £18.1 billion of public money.


Knowledge and Innovation accounts for the majority of its spending with £11.8 billion directed to this in 2012-2013, mostly through HEFCE, science and research, and higher education.

BIS is really a “family” of organisations and is the “parent” for over 49 public bodies and executive agencies including the research councils, HEFCE, Met Office, Skills Funding Agency, UKTI, TSB and many more.

The Ministerial team is led by the Secretary of State, Vince Cable; the management team is led by the permanent secretary Martin Donnelly.

Its four non-executive directors are led by Sir Andrew Witty, chief executive of GlaxoSmithKline and chancellor of the University of Nottingham and include Dame Julia King, vice-chancellor of Aston University.

The site where the main BIS building now stands at 1 Victoria Street in London was once a giant Alms House for the poor and location where William Caxton printed the first ever book in Britain. See our blog on the history of 1 Victoria Street.

BIS has a strict policy on briefing documents sent to Ministers and senior civil servants which must be no more than two pages and follow the department’s template style. Of course, staff get around this by including numerous appendices!

The Ministerial offices are located on the 7th floor at 1 Victoria Street and have a dedicated lift so Ministers and their staff don’t have to hang around the foyer – if you can sneak in, it’s a good place to test out your “elevator pitch”.

Diarist and member of Margaret Thatcher’s government Alan Clark occupied an office in 1 Victoria Street when he became a minister for the first time in what was then the DTI. An infamous entry records how he wondered whether urinating from the seventh floor window would get him sacked. No, he concluded, they’d have to hush it up.


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Next time: 10 things you should know about science in Parliament.