A gifted communicator, he rose quickly through Whitehall ranks to become Private Secretary to Lord Armstrong, head of the civil service under Conservative PM Edward Heath. He then served in 10 Downing Street as Press Secretary to two Labour Prime Ministers, Harold Wilson and James Callaghan, conducting Lobby briefings and preparing responses to daily events.
From 1976 he led initiatives to control departmental spending, and to pilot reforms to government IT and communications.
On moving to the private sector, he developed the marketing for Trivial Pursuit, and as MD of Robert Maxwell’s Panini Group publications, quickly reversed four years of losses. The experience was not entirely happy: “Everyone who worked for Maxwell hated him,” he later observed.
Young then created his own consultancy, working with investors, and designing successful proposals for the £120m privatization of major government agencies including HMSO. He reckoned that his initiative to contract out Navy air training, Met Office and communications functions, saved taxpayers over £200m.
In the 1990s he directed major projects for the Adam Smith Institute, itself a pioneer of privatisation. His project on road congestion pricing brought together local authorities, transport experts and motoring groups, and convinced the incoming Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, to adopt the idea. Another initiative, on pension simplification, led to the creation of the Stakeholder Pension. As Adrian Boulding of Legal & General, a partner in the project, commented: “The pension work we did together showed what was possible, and led to fundamental changes in the market, to the benefit of consumers.”
From 1996, Young ran his own think tank, Public Policy Projects, concentrating on health policy. His healthcare breakfast briefings in Parliament attracted top-rank speakers and regularly attracted over a hundred experts and policymakers.
Matthew James Young was born in Richmond in 1944 where his family had lived for over two centuries. His grandfather set up an upholstery and furniture business there on returning from the Great War, and Matthew spent much of his childhood in the workshops with his father, who ran the business until the 1980s.
Few who met Matthew guessed his age, such were his youthful looks, energy and intellectual curiosity. He was an outstanding synthesiser of ideas with formidable communications skills, and an enviable list of contacts reaching to the highest levels of government policy.
He died suddenly of complications following undiagnosed kidney disease, and is survived by his wife Stephanie, originally of Dayton, Ohio, his two children by his first marriage, James and Harriet, and by his two daughters Celia and Sophie, who have asked for donations in lieu of flowers to Kidney Research UK.