Originally posted at This Is Money
She was dubbed the ‘Atomic Kitten’ by satirical magazine Private Eye, and while there is not much that is cuddly about the ambitious Barbara Judge, she is certainly forceful. As the new chairman at the Institute of Directors, her attitude to the Chancellor’s Budget last week was less than fluffy, too.
She considers the fallout for businesses and admits that, like most, she was surprised by George Osborne’s rabbit-out-of-the-hat – the National Living Wage.
‘It’s a bold move,’ she says of the new law that will see the minimum wage for anyone over 25 rise to £9 an hour by 2020. Many business groups have carped at this, but she sees some short-term costs and long-term gains.
‘It will reduce, overall, about 60,000 jobs,’ she says. ‘But between now and 2020, if the economy keeps going the way it’s meant to, it will help to create a million jobs.ADVERTISEMENT
‘We see it as extending a hand to everyone. It’s the perfect time. The country is growing, the economy is doing well. People have not had a pay rise for a long time.
‘The timing was excellent. It makes everybody believe things are going well, we’re going forward – it’s lifting the spirit of the country.’
Lady Judge has been in some well-paid roles during her career as a corporate lawyer in America, a director at British merchant bank Samuel Montagu & Co. These days the 69-year-old is a fully paid-up member of the great and the good: she is Emeritus Chair of the UK Atomic Energy Authority (hence the Atomic Kitten tag) and chairman of the Pension Protection Fund (PPF).
The chairman of the IoD is paid a fee of about £20,000 a year, while the PPF fee amounts to £60,000. It’s clearly not minimum-wage territory, but these are far from stellar sums by City standards.
Nuclear fallout? I blame Mr Burns
Nuclear power receives unfair criticism – not least because of The Simpsons, according to Lady Judge, Emeritus Chair at the Atomic Energy Authority.
‘You can’t see it, you can’t feel it, you forget that radiation is for X-rays and is medically very important,’ she says. ‘All you can remember is The Simpsons. People who grew up with The Simpsons’ cartoons think of the villain – the owner of the nuclear plant, Mr Burns. It’s ingrained in our heads that nuclear is bad, but the benefits far outweigh the detriments.
‘I have studied the statistics – the accident statistics in rail, aeroplanes, the big accidents in Chernobyl and Fukushima – I’m an adviser to the company that has Fukushima.
‘There is a chance you could have a big accident, but if you do the real research, you’ll find that few people have lost their lives, compared with other things.’
Lady Judge sees nuclear energy as vital. ‘It is important to be energy secure and independent and not rely on other countries and sources of energy.
‘We were the country that started building nuclear power plants 60 years ago and we should retain that ability to keep people warm and the lights on.’
As for the rise in the minimum wage, Lady Judge dismisses the concerns of those business leaders who have condemned the move. ‘There’s no free lunch,’ she says. ‘The Chancellor did ask everybody to pay employees more, but at the same time the Government increased the personal allowance and gave small businesses help with National Insurance. They gave back a bit of what they’ve taken away.’
The cost of employing a 25-year-old will be about £2,000 a year more because of the Living Wage. ‘My opinion is that businesses will not make their decision based on £2,000,’ she says, ‘but if they were going to they could save the £2,000 by hiring someone younger.’
Lady Judge is not uncritical of the Chancellor. ‘The Budget has ups and downs for small companies,’ she says, referring to the changes to the Annual Investment Allowance.
This is the sum that companies can invest tax free. It was scheduled to drop to just £20,000 a year in January, but the Chancellor announced that it would be set at a far more generous £200,000.
For Lady Judge this is still not enough: ‘We would have liked it to be fixed at £600,000. That’s what we were looking for. We believe that if people know that there is a fixed amount of money that they could spend on their businesses then they would do it, but if it’s not a big enough sum to make it tax efficient then they may not.
‘We were sorry to see that it was fixed at £200,000, instead of what we hoped.’
Lady Judge, her hair pinned back in a tight bun, peers sternly through astonishingly large glasses – even a Chancellor might be unnerved. She clasps an austere mug of hot water. ‘I was told it is good for the skin,’ she says.
Her Atomic Energy Authority role means she is a champion of nuclear power and argues that you are more likely to have an accident in your own home than be the victim of a nuclear disaster. People experience more radiation during a flight to Tokyo than they do walking around a nuclear plant, she says. She has done both recently, having advised the Japanese government on its clean-up after the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
Lady Judge was born in America and after her career in law, investment banking and a stint as a director at the former Rupert Murdoch company News International, she moved to London in 1994. She married British businessman Sir Paul Judge in 2002.
It was not the path she had imagined as a child. ‘I thought I wanted to be an actress, but my mother said: “We are not having any starving actresses in this family. If you want to act, go act in front of a jury. You can be a lawyer”.’
Her mother encouraged here to be single minded in her career. She was told: ‘You need to be able to do something the men can’t, because in general management they don’t need women, they think they can do it themselves.’
Lady Judge followed her mother’s advice and worked to achieve good grades. She said she was lucky to receive many job offers. ‘In those days law firms were thinking, “We need to have the first woman”.
‘So what they said to me was, “Oh, Barbara, you’re very lucky, we all have to have one woman, and with all your good grades we guess you can’t do too much harm”.
‘That’s a true quote. And the end of that story is that the manager said to me: “We want you to be happy in this firm. We spent the whole weekend figuring out how to make a woman happy in this firm. We’re going to put flowers on your desk every Monday”.’
These days such patronising attitudes are mostly a thing of the past – except when it comes to nicknames such as the Atomic Kitten.