Manzoni cautioned over job with global drinks firm Diageo

Watchdog Acoba tells former civil service chief executive not to discuss Brexit negotiating strategy with Guinness and Smirnoff parent company
john manzoni at pacac

By Jim Dunton

13 Oct 2020

Appointments watchdog Acoba has instructed former civil service chief executive Sir John Manzoni not to share his knowledge of Brexit-related trade negotiations with global drinks firm Diageo, which he has joined as a non-executive director.

The company, which owns around 200 brands – including Guinness and Smirnoff – announced Manzoni’s appointment at the beginning of this month. Manzoni joined power firm SSE as a non-executive director last month, and is expected to become company chairman in April.

Acoba – short for the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments – this week published its response to Manzoni’s request to take up the Diageo role. As a senior civil servant who left government just six months ago, he was required to seek its advice under anti-corruption rules.

In addition to its usual recommendations that former Crown employees should not try to benefit from privileged information they had from their government jobs, Acoba explicitly told Manzoni not to share his insight of post-Brexit trade plans.

“The committee considers he should specifically avoid giving Diageo PLC, or its subsidiaries, partners or clients, privileged insight into issues related to Bexit and the UK’s future trading relationship with the EU, insofar as it pertains to the negotiating position of the UK government and other parties,” it said.

Acoba rules also ban Manzoni from lobbying the government on behalf of his new employers for two years from the date that he left government – 12 April 2020.

Acoba noted the former civil service chief exec and Cabinet Office perm sec’s “high profile and seniority” in government meant there was a “risk it could be perceived his network and influence might assist Diageo unfairly”.

The watchdog said Diageo already had a stakeholder relationship with the government and that it would not be appropriate for Manzoni to seek to maintain that relationship, or to seek to influence government thinking on regulations in the food and drinks industry.

Manzoni is a former non-executive director of brewer SAB Miller, a role he controversially maintained after becoming civil service chief exec in 2014. He is also a former BP executive.

Diageo chairman Javier Ferrán said Manzoni would bring “unique insight and expertise” to the business.

“I look forward to John’s contribution as we progress to achieving our ambition to become one of the most trusted and respected consumer products companies in the world,” he said.

Other just-published Acoba letters include former Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government chief financial officer Rachel McLean’s move to become CFO at the troubled Crossrail project. 

McLean was appointed as a director at the firm delivering the trans-capital rail link on 2 January, however Acoba’s letter endorsing the move was dated 2 March. It was only made public yesterday.

Acoba also published its response to former HM Revenue and Customs director general Karen Wheeler’s proposed appointment as managing director of Radioactive Waste Management Ltd, which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.

Wheeler was responsible for the Border Delivery Group at HMRC and led its borders-related preparations for Brexit until June last year.

Acoba approved her request to take up the new role with Radioactive Waste Management in March. It noted that Wheeler became a non-executive director of Radioactive Waste Management in 2018.

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