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Friday, April 16, 2021

Is the lobbying watchdog fit for purpose?

As the David Cameron/Greensill scandal continues to grow with more revelations spilling out from Commons Committee inquiries the question has to be asked as to what the watchdog set up to stop this sort of thing has been doing?

According to the Mirror, they are effectively toothless with only 108 appointments out of the 34,000 people leaving the civil service being scrutinised last year:

Lord Pickles, chair of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACOBA), warned of the challenges scrutinising new jobs for officials as he said there did not appear to be "any boundaries at all" between civil servants and the private sector.

The “revolving door” of top officials joining businesses has created the assumption among them that they will be “looked after” by the next cohort of officials, he told MPs.

It comes as Cabinet Secretary Simon Case told all Whitehall departments to notify him of any senior officials with paid jobs outside Government by the end of the week.

In an appearance before the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC), Lord Pickles demanded a "full and frank" explanation over how a top civil servant was allowed to work as a part-time adviser at Greensill Capital while still in Whitehall.

He said he had been “surprised” to discover that Bill Crothers’ position at the now collapsed firm was green lit by the Cabinet Office in September 2015, despite the fact that he did not leave his civil service role until November that year.

"I mean, if Mr Crothers had decided he wanted to have a milk round or something, I don't think we would be terribly worried," Lord Pickles said.

"But his particular position, in terms of running procurement and working for a commercial organisation, is something that does require a full and frank and transparent explanation."

Lord Pickles said the case "highlights a number of anomalies" in vetting of ex-ministers and civil servants, adding: "There does not seem to have been any boundaries at all.”

He said he was "really unhappy" with gaps in the ethics system and has been "warning of the possibility of a scandal" for some time.

Lord Pickles told MPs: "I was worried that there was an element of a tick the box in terms of the responses that were coming from departments.

"Perhaps uncharitably I had the vaguest feeling that you might be looking at a cohort entitlement, whereby the existing cohort looked after the cohort that just left, in assumption that the cohort that was coming up would look after them."

He warned that most of the problems were due to "a lack of leadership from those in authority", blaming frontbench politicians on all sides and civil service bosses.

"Those who have power have a responsibility to set a very clear tone," he said.

Pickles is concerned that a more effective system would cost too much to implement but if that is price of restoring confidence in government then it has to be done.
Some new draconian power is needed, such as freezing the pension of any civil servant or minister who joins or draws money from an organisation connected with his or her previous work.
Yes, freezing pensions would be a good idea.In private life that pension stops when you leave employment and you have to then reapply for a new pension from the company that you then work for. They are not then paid till you retire.
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