Civil service terms and conditions to change in lobbying crackdown

Civil servants will also be under greater scrutiny over contact with lobbyists, in the government’s long awaited response to calls for reforms over lobbying rules
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By Jonathan Owen

21 Jul 2023

Civil Service terms and conditions are to be changed to incorporate more specific details of the rules over lobbying, with the government to include more requirements about restrictions on future employment within civil service contracts.

The move was revealed in the government’s response, published yesterday, to a series of reports dating back almost three years that have called for major reforms to lobbying rules and ethics in government.

The Greensill lobbying scandal involving former prime minister David Cameron prompted the Boardman Review and reports by the Committee on Standards in Public Life, and the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee.

In its response to the reports, the government stated that it will overhaul the current system so that “new contractual clauses” will feature in revised terms and conditions. These “will make clear the conditions each individual will face depending on the proposed role they wish to take up after government service."

The response does not give an indication of when the change will take place, but said: “For those on these new terms and conditions, the proposal will change from one where they apply to Acoba for advice to one where they consult the rules and their contract for the resulting conditions."

More senior civil servants will also be brought into the transparency regime. “The government agrees that transparency obligations should be extended to all directors general, finance and commercial directors, and senior responsible owners in the Government's Major Projects Portfolio, reflecting senior civil service roles most likely to be subject to lobbying approaches.”

It said the change will be implemented in the next version of the government's transparency guidance., which will “create stricter minimum standards for descriptions of meetings and make clear that meeting descriptions contain relevant and instructive information".

In another change to the current transparency regime, departments must now publish details of any outside employment, work or appointment held by senior officials “that has been agreed through the process for the declaration and management of outside interests”.

In addition, the way in which ministers personally appoint people will be “subject to greater transparency.” New guidance “will make clear the process for such appointments, and that the appointing minister is responsible and accountable to parliament for their appointments".

The response said that if ministers appoint individuals “not deemed appointable by an advisory assessment panel, they will be obliged to write to the relevant select committee explaining their decision, and to appear before it if requested by the select committee chair".

It also outlined how a "ministerial deed" will be designed to legally commit ministers to the rules on accepting jobs after they leave office, and that those who breach the rules could face financial sanctions.

However, it stopped short of accepting demands for fundamental reforms such as placing the independent adviser on ministers’ interests, the commissioner for public appointments, and Acoba on a statutory footing. “Placing scrutiny bodies into primary legislation risks drawing the courts into political matters,” it claimed.

The response also rejects calls for a five-year ban on ministers taking up lobbying roles, and a comprehensive strengthening of the lobbying register.

Lord Evans, chairman of CPLS, said it was regrettable that many of his key recommendations had not been adopted. Just 14 out of the committee's 34 recommendations have been fully accepted by the government, and 10 have been rejected outright. He warned that while some "progress has been made", the reforms "should not be the end of the story."

His concerns were echoed by PACAC chair William Wragg, who said: “We are disappointed that the government has not accepted all of our recommendations, and will be considering our next steps on this important issue in due course.”

FDA union leader Dave Penman commented: “This is yet another missed opportunity to implement a system in which all parties can have confidence.”

Reforms need to be made "quickly and incrementally," according to Acoba chairman Lord Pickles. In a letter to deputy prime minister Oliver Dowden yesterday, he said: “There is clearly work to be done to bring the current system into a new reality of contractual and legally binding restrictions for both ministers and civil servants.”

Lord Pickles added: “With regard to the proposed ministerial deed and improved contractual obligations, ACOBA’s focus during consultation will be on ensuring the proposals pass the threshold of credibility. A non-statutory scheme, in order to be taken seriously, needs a meaningful sanctions regime including a financial penalty.”

 

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