Alok Sharma (born 7 September 1967) is a British politician serving as President for COP26 and Minister of State at the Cabinet Office since 2021. Sharma resigned his previous position as Secretary of State for Business in order to lead COP26. Sharma retains full Cabinet status. Sharma has been the Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) for Reading West since 2010.
Sharma served in Prime Minister Theresa May's government as Minister of State for Housing from 2017 to 2018 and as Minister of State for Employment from 2018 to 2019. In 2019, he was appointed to the Cabinet by Prime Minister Boris Johnson as Secretary of State for International Development. He was promoted to Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in the 2020 cabinet reshuffle, an office in which he served until 2021.
Early life and career
Sharma was born in Agra, northern India, but moved to Reading with his parents when he was five years old and had a Hindu upbringing. His father Prem was involved in Conservative politics in Reading and became chairman of the Berkshire area of Conservatives and helped establish the Conservative Parliamentary Friends of India. Sharma was raised in the Reading suburbs of Earley and Whitley Wood and attended Presentation College, Reading Blue Coat School in Sonning and the University of Salford, from where he graduated with a BSc in Applied Physics with Electronics in 1988.
Sharma subsequently qualified as a chartered accountant, training with Deloitte Haskins & Sells in Manchester before moving into corporate finance advisory with Nikko Securities and then Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken, where he held senior roles based in London, Stockholm and Frankfurt. Sharma was an adviser to clients in the corporate and private-equity sector on cross-border mergers and acquisitions, listings and restructurings.
Member of Parliament
Sharma was selected as the Conservative Party candidate for the Reading West constituency in 2006. He was elected as the MP for Reading West in the 2010 general election, winning a majority of 6,004 after the retirement of the Labour MP Martin Salter.
In the 2017 general election, he won his seat with a reduced margin, a majority of 2,876. On being re-elected, Sharma wrote on his website: "Having grown up locally in Reading and being very much a local Reading man, I am delighted to have been re-elected for a constituency in my home town."
Early parliamentary career (2010–2016)
In September 2011, Sharma was appointed Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS) to Mark Hoban, the then Financial Secretary to the Treasury. During his time as a PPS, Sharma sat on a number of public bill committees including two finance bills, the 2013 Banking Reform Bill and the 2011 Pensions Bill. He also served as PPS to Sir Oliver Letwin, the former Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster who had overall responsibility for the Cabinet Office.
Following the death of two cyclists in Purley on Thames, Sharma campaigned in 2014 for longer prison sentences for those convicted of death by dangerous driving. Sharma initiated a Parliamentary debate on the issue and backed a petition, started by the families of victims, which gained more than 55,000 signatures.
Sharma campaigned to reduce the number of first-class carriages on trains operating on the Great Western route between Reading and London. In January 2015, he held a meeting with Rail Minister Claire Perry and First Great Western managing director Mark Hopwood to discuss proposals to increase Standard Class capacity to reduce overcrowding.
In 2016, Sharma was appointed as the Prime Minister's "Infrastructure Envoy to India".
Junior minister (2016–2019)
As the Minister of State for Housing, Sharma was responsible for the Government's response to the Grenfell Tower fire. He attracted media attention when he was visibly moved while making a statement to the House of Commons on 5 July 2017.
Secretary of State for International Development (2019–2020)
Sharma was appointed Secretary of State for International Development by Boris Johnson following the resignation of Rory Stewart in July 2019. Upon ascending to the role, he said: "I am delighted... We will work across the whole of government to deliver Brexit and make sure UK aid is tackling global challenges that affect us all."
In October, Sharma stated he wanted to use the UK's leverage over the World Bank to focus the use of the nineteenth International Development Association fund on fighting climate change, building sustainable economies and promoting women's rights.
Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (2020–2021)
Following the dismissal of Andrea Leadsom in the 2020 cabinet reshuffle, Sharma was appointed to the position of Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, taking office on 13 February.
As Secretary of State, Sharma was one of the government's speakers at the daily coronavirus pandemic briefings from Downing Street. In June 2020, he appeared visibly unwell while delivering a statement in the House of Commons. Although he underwent a test for COVID-19 which came back negative, the situation led to questions being raised about the government's decision to end the use of the virtual parliament and make MPs return to the House of Commons chamber. Certain employees of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy were advised not to return to their work by the Public and Commercial Services Union, who said that there was a lack of evidence that the department had provided enough preventative measures against the virus.
In July 2020, Sharma instructed officials to purchase half of OneWeb, a satellite communications company, for US$500m. The company was purchased from Chapter 11 bankruptcy by the UK Government and Bharti Enterprises.
President for COP26 (2021–present)
In addition to his appointment as Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on 13 February 2020, Sharma was also appointed President of the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), following the dismissal of Claire Perry O'Neill in January 2020. At that time the conference was planned for November 2020; in May 2020 it was rearranged for November 2021.
On 8 January 2021, Sharma left his position as Secretary of State to become President of COP26 on a full-time basis, and chair of the Climate Action Implementation Committee. He moved to the Cabinet Office and retained his status as a full member of the cabinet. Sharma formally serves as a Minister of State, in the Cabinet Office.
Sharma supported the opening in his Reading West constituency of one of the first free schools in England: All Saints Junior School opened in September 2011 and received an 'outstanding' rating in its first Ofsted report.
Sharma has also been appointed a patron of the Wren School, a new secondary free school opening in west Reading in September 2015. Sharma supported the West Reading Education Network in getting the new school approved and is helping the school to find an appropriate permanent site.
Sharma has been a vocal supporter of the expansion of Heathrow Airport and has spoken in support of increasing the number of airport runways in the South East of England, claiming that "a lack of hub capacity is costing the UK jobs and investment." This is despite opposition in his own constituency; in 2009 he said: "A third runway at Heathrow would inflict huge damage to the environment and to the quality of life of millions of people. It is time for the Government to abandon its plans for a third runway and, if a Conservative Government is elected, we will certainly stop this environmental disaster."
East West Leaders' Forum
Sharma set up the East West Leaders' Forum, a discussion forum between business leaders, to promote dialogue between Europe, India and China. Theresa May, then Home Secretary, gave the keynote speech at the inaugural event, held in London in September 2014.
Sharma supported the UK remaining within the European Union prior to the 2016 referendum. He backed then Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit withdrawal agreement in early 2019, and also subsequently supported Prime Minister Boris Johnson's withdrawal agreement in October 2019.
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