The government's anti-corruption watchdog has criticised former minister Stephen Hammond for failing to report his plans to take up a new role with the Public Policy Projects institute.
The Advisory Committee on Business Appointments said Hammond had behaved unacceptably and in breach of the ministerial code in failing to disclose his role with the subscription-based organisation, which is chaired by former health secretary Stephen Dorrell. Public Policy Projects includes former cabinet ministers Damian Green and Amber Rudd on its top team.
Hammond was a junior transport minister in the coalition government and subsequently served as a minister in the Department of Health and Social Care between November 2018 and July 2019. He was also parliamentary private secretary to then-communities and local government secretary Eric Pickles between 2010 and 2012. Pickles – now Lord Pickles – is the current chair of Acoba.
Acoba exists to ensure former ministers and senior civil servants do not profit from privileged information they obtained in public service. The ministerial code requires all former ministers to seek Acoba’s advice on new roles they want to take up within two years of leaving office.
Letters between the watchdog and Hammond – who is still an MP – reveal that he did not tell the watchdog about his Public Policy Projects role before taking it up last May, and that the issue was only brought to light by satirical magazine Private Eye.
In an October letter to Acoba, which has just been published, Hammond explained that his original role at PPP was focused on infrastructure and the World Economic Series, and had no connection with health. He said he did not believe he was required to seek the green light from the watchdog before taking up the role.
“If I have unintentionally misinterpreted or misunderstood the rules relating to an outside interest post ministerial office, I unreservedly apologise,” he wrote.
Acoba responded in December, reminding Hammond that he was obliged to report all new roles within two years of leaving office, irrespective of the sector they related to.
“The committee regards it as unacceptable you did not seek advice as you were required to for your original role with PPP,” Pickles wrote.
“This is a breach of the government’s rules, and the requirement set out in the ministerial code.”
Pickles added that while the letter was issued in his name, he had recused himself from discussions about Hammond’s appointment.
Despite the panel’s criticism of Hammond, it agreed to offer advice on his plans to broaden his role at Public Policy Projects to include healthcare as well as his original focus areas.
Acoba's letter acknowledged there was an “inherent risk” that Hammond could be seen to have access to sensitive information on healthcare policy that could provide PPP with an unfair advantage. But it noted that Hammond had not been a minister at DHSC for more than a year, and that the department did not believe he had access to “relevant sensitive information”.
Acoba approved Hammond’s request to include healthcare policy in his PPP remit, provided that he does not draw on privileged information from his time in office or lobby government – or make use of his ministerial contacts for PPP’s benefit – until the end of July at the earliest.
The letter also stipulates that Hammond must not provide PPP or related companies with advice on bids or contracts with the UK government until two years have passed since his time in office.
At his own pre-appointment meeting last year, Pickles told members of parliament’s Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee that he was more interested in the post-government jobs of civil servants than of politicians.