Business appointments watchdog reports spike in applications
ACOBA's annual report shows 27% hike in requests from former Crown servants to take up non-Whitehall roles
Whitehall Credit: PA
The Advisory Committee on Business Appointments has reported a leap in applications from former civil servants and other former Crown employees seeking clearance to take on new jobs.
According to the anti-corruption watchdog’s annual report, there has been a year-on-year increase of 27% in the number of requests from ex-officials seeking approval for jobs in other sectors.
Conversely, ACOBA said the number of former ministers – such as chancellor-turned-newspaper-editor George Osborne – seeking approval for new roles dipped by about 16% on the previous year.
Former senior civil servants and ministers are required to get any new roles vetted by ACOBA for two years after they leave office in a bid to dissuade them from trading on their access to Whitehall contacts when seeking new employment.
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ACOBA said it had received 140 requests for advice from former officials regarding new appointments, up from 110 in 2015-16 and 89 in 2014-15.
The number of former ministers seeking advice dipped to 104 in 2016-17, down from 123 the year before. ACOBA pointed to the impact of the 2015 general election as one cause of the higher earlier turnover.
Chair Baroness Angela Browning said the watchdog was continuing to field a high volume of applications, and recognised that it had only dealt with 70% of requests for advice within the target timescale over the year, down from 75% the previous year.
“It was a challenging year for the secretariat; with new personnel settling in after a period of change and an increase in casework,” she said.
“This included many cases which required significant work by the secretariat; in particular, seeking further information from applicants about the nature of proposed roles; and former government departments about individuals’ responsibilities held whilst in office.”
Browning noted that the two-year buffer zone requiring former ministers to seek ACOBA’s advice on new roles meant that politicians who left government after the 2015 general election would no longer be required to seek its guidance.
However she said fallout from last month’s snap election and the 2016 transition from David Cameron’s administration to that of Theresa May would continue to generate applications.
ACOBA can approve appointments, advise on any necessary safeguard, and – ultimately – suggest that an appointment is “unsuitable”. However it only publishes guidance given to individuals after they have taken up their new role, in some cases months afterwards.
In its 2017 annual report, the watchdog said there had been eight instances over the past year in which applications had been withdrawn. One reason applications are withdrawn is that the individuals concerned have been advised the role is “unsuitable”.
The ACOBA report said the 2016-17 withdrawals had been made “for a variety of reasons”. The individuals involved were not identified, and the advice letters were not published.
ACOBA also said that nine retrospective applications had been made when advice had been sought after a new role had been accepted – flying in the face of the rules on appointments.
One such application would have been from former Ministry of Defence HR chief Sir Andrew Gregory, who sought retrospective approval for taking up a new job with the armed forces charity SSAFA.
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