MPs want to beef up civil service code to tackle "revolving door"

Written by Suzannah Brecknell on 25 April 2017 in News
News

The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Select Committee wants to see the civil service code amended to prevent potential conflicts of interest as government pushes for greater interchange between public and private sectors

MPs have called on government to amend the civil service code so that it includes clear constraints on the jobs officials can take when they leave the civil service, as they warn that the public servants now feel “entitled to capitalise on their public sector experience when they move into the private sector”.


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A report published by the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee also said there should be clear rules to prevent conflicts of interest as individuals move into the civil service from the private sector.

“In an age where a certain set of shared values can no longer be assumed to be embedded in our society, the government must set out clear values and a clear set of principles to define how public servants should think about their future career moves and their subsequent career outside of the public sector,” the report stated.

“The key principles should be that no one takes a job for a specified period, currently two years, in which there is a perceived conflict of interest with their past employment in the public service, and no one should have a job in the public service in which there could be a perceived conflict with their past career in the private sector.”

The report sets out some suggested text which MPs want to add to the code, including that civil servants must “take decisions in the public interest alone”, not allow their decisions to be influenced by career expectations and prospects if they leave public service, and “take particular care” in dealings with former colleagues who might want to influence their decisions.

The report, examining the role of watchdog Advisory Committee on Business Appointments watchdog also called for a “comprehensive reform of the whole ACOBA system”.

ACOBA provides advice to former ministers and civil servants at Director General Grade and above about appointments they wish to take up within two years of leaving government, but committee chair Bernard Jenkin said the government must take steps to ensure that the ACOBA system is improved swiftly.

“In the long term, failure do so will lead to an even greater decline in public trust in our democracy and our government," he said.

MPs also raise concerns about the increasing interchange between public and private sectors. The civil service has stated that it wishes to increase the number of secondments into government as well as opening up more posts to external recruitment, as part of the drive to fill skills gaps across government.

“The risk arising from the interchange between the public and private sector is the opportunity it affords to the less scrupulous to conduct themselves in public office in the hope that the people who they are regulating or contracting with, or the relationships they are managing, will somehow prove fruitful to them at a future date,” MPs concluded.

They acknowledge there is “little hard evidence that the movement to the private sector is not conducted appropriately” but say the current ACOBA system provides little reassurance should concerns arise.

The committee urged greater transparency about appointments being given to officials who do not fall under ACOBA’s remit, as well as changes to the civil service code.

Concerns were also raised about the increasing interchange between public and private sectors. The civil service has stated that it wishes to increase the number of secondments into government as well as opening up more posts to external recruitment, as part of the drive to fill skills gaps across government.

“The risk arising from the interchange between the public and private sector is the opportunity it affords to the less scrupulous to conduct themselves in public office in the hope that the people who they are regulating or contracting with, or the relationships they are managing, will somehow prove fruitful to them at a future date,” MPs said.

Information about requests for advice from officials at director and deputy director grades was previously published in ACOBA’s annual reports, but this was stopped in 2010. Departments and agencies are now meant to publish this information on their own websites but PACAC notes that many are not doing so.

“We are aware that, in many situations, civil servants in positions lower down the organisation perform significant roles in respect both of policy formation and commercial relationships, including some senior responsible officers for major projects,” MPs say.

They add that there is a ”clear lack of scrutiny and transparency” about how the business advice rules are being applied to these officials.

Departments should appoint a non-executive director with responsibility to ensure Business Appointment Rules are followed by officials below director general grade, and for aggregated data about officials at this level who move into private sector jobs to be published on the ACOBA website.

About the author

Suzannah Brecknell is Civil Service World's senior reporter. She tweets as @SuzannahCSW

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nian (not verified)

Submitted on 25 April, 2017 - 14:21
So not at all like being an MP or a member of the cabinet! I'm happy with this if MPs have the same rules applied.

@JagPatel3

Submitted on 25 April, 2017 - 15:27
The ‘revolving door’ is one reason why public trust in Government and Public Sector institutions has fallen to a new low. This is because the twin evils of lobbying and corruption rear their ugly heads every time public money crosses the boundary between the Public Sector and the Private Sector. Whereas media focus is on the small number of high-profile political elite who shamelessly exploit their previous contacts and know-how they have accumulated whilst in the pay of the State to line their own pockets and unwittingly skew the market in favour of their new paymasters in the Private Sector, the journey made by thousands of ordinary public servants underneath them, who are also looking to follow the example set by their political masters and cash-in on this bonanza, has escaped scrutiny. Of course, everyone has a right to sell their labour in the free market to whomsoever they wish, for whatever price they can command. However, the brazen way the political elite have gone about exercising this freedom without any checks and controls on the way they go about disseminating privileged information about inner workings of Government is scandalous, and always to the detriment of taxpayers – which is what they promised they would protect whilst in the pay of the State! The military-political-industrial complex has been the original model for lobbying and corruption from the earliest of times – indeed, the career prospects of people in the pay of the State are inextricably linked to those with the means to produce weapons systems, facilitated by the ‘revolving door’ and intense lobbying behind the scenes where it matters most, in the corridors of power inhabited by the same, self-serving political elite. At a time when the headcount at UK MoD’s defence equipment acquisition organisation at Abbey Wood, Bristol is being forcibly slashed as part of the 2015 Spending Review settlement with the Treasury, there exists an extremely high risk that departing procurement officials, including those who have not previously taken part in the assessment of invitation to tender responses, will be persuaded to pocket corresponding memory sticks (or CDs) and offer them in return for employment, to competitors of owners of these same CDs – thereby transferring innovative design solutions and Intellectual Property Rights which can then be used by unscrupulous recipients, to grab a larger share of the defence market. Such behaviour only reinforces the view that lower-level defence procurement officials have nothing to offer potential employers in the Private Sector (unlike the political elite), except someone else’s property! And when these people arrive on Contractors’ premises, they promptly become a burden on fellow co-workers and the payroll because they do not have the necessary skills (due to being selected for reasons other than merit) as task performers to add value to the business, only costs. What’s more, because many Defence Contractors do not have a ‘Code on Ethical Behaviour in Business’ in place, they will not only happily accept such proprietary information without any qualms, but also encourage its unauthorised removal from MoD Abbey Wood – yet they would not want their own CDs to fall into the hands of their Competitors. Such is their twisted sense of morality! @JagPatel3 on twitter

Charles McDowall (not verified)

Submitted on 25 April, 2017 - 15:36
MPs need to stop and think a bit here. Of course a person should have a career and we, the Civil Service, often provide experience that the civil service needs to exist in the private sector. The bigger and better question is: If the Civil service is objective, why does it matter that people can be seen to have potential conflicts of interest? It suggests that the 'scrutiny process' is open to abuse and ineffectual. If it is open to abuse and ineffectual then yes, block conflict hard and use the savings to pay people to take visible personal responsibility.

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