Civil servants could face new restrictions on jobs they can take after they leave government and beefed-up contracts to enforce appointment rules if proposals from the Committee on Standards in Public Life are adopted.
The measures are part of a raft of recommendations that have emerged as interim findings from the watchdog’s Standards Matter 2 review, which have been published ahead of a final report to feed into the plethora of inquiries into the Greensill lobbying scandal.
Other proposals include allowing government departments and the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments to impose lobbying bans of up to five years on some former ministers and civil servants, and refusing to accept applications to lobby for a specified period of time from individuals.
Former prime minister David Cameron was hired as a lobbyist for failed finance firm Greensill Capital after Acoba's current two-year window to scrutinise roles taken on by former officials and polilticians had closed.
The Committee on Standards in Public Life's report suggests that transparency alone is “not enough” to ensure people adhere to government’s business appointments rules. It also notes that there are currently no sanctions on those who breach the rules other than public recognition that a breach has occurred.
It supports Acoba chair Lord Eric Pickles’s call for civil service contracts to explicitly state that former officials should adhere to the business appointment rules, and that contracts should make clear what sanctions there will be for breaches.
“By writing the business appointment rules into employment contracts for civil servants and special advisers, and instituting parallel legal arrangements for ministers, it will be clear to those taking up public office what the government's expectations are of any post-employment activity,” the standards committee said. “Such contractual and legal requirements should be binding, taking into account any restraint of trade considerations.”
The committee said that if it proved too difficult for the government to introduce contractual changes, ministers should consider the introduction of a statutory business appointments scheme with civil penalties.
It is also backing calls from MPs on the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Select Committee and Acoba for the scope of the government’s business appointment rules to be expanded to take account of wider conflicts of interest than contact in office with a prospective employer.
The committee cited instances of former housing ministers going to work for housebuilders or Department for Transport civil servants going to rail companies as potentially undermining the “perception of probity”.
“Conflicts of interest are not just the product of a relationship between an official and a specific future employer,” its report said.
“An official may institute policy or regulation sympathetic to a range of companies providing a particular service or product, with an eye to future employment, without having a direct relationship with any specific company.
“The rules should not be so broad, however, as to prohibit the employment of a minister or official by a company with whom they have had no direct relationship and only tangential or incidental engagement with the relevant policy area.
“The committee proposes that the rules be expanded to prohibit for two years business appointments where the applicant has significant and direct responsibility for policy, regulation, or the awarding of contracts relevant to the hiring company.”
Lord Jonathan Evans, who chairs the Committee on Standards in Public Life, said work on Standards Matter 2 – which launched last autumn – had identified areas where it was believed “significant reform” was necessary and where immediate action could be taken.
“Though it is unusual for the committee to publish findings in advance of a final report, our system of standards regulation is currently under sustained public scrutiny. The committee is releasing these findings now to contribute to that debate in a timely manner,” he said.
“The committee's final report will be published later this year, and it will include the committee's assessment of the relevance of the seven principles of public life, our view on how ethical standards are being upheld across public life, and our formal recommendations to the prime minister. These findings identify immediate issues with the current operation of the standards regulatory regime, and point in the direction of necessary reform.”
Elsewhere, the report calls for the prime minister’s adviser on ministerial standards to be allowed to instigate their own investigations into breaches of the ministerial code – a proposal rejected by Boris Johnson earlier this year.
The committee also wants departments to publish data on their in-house implementation of the government’s business-appointments rules for individuals below the level overseen by Acoba and for departments to publish lists of their unregulated appointments.
Baroness Dido Harding’s appointment to lead NHS Test and Trace last year was one example of a high-profile appointment made without a competitive application process. It is currently the subject of a High Court challenge.