Former environment secretary George Eustice has been cleared to set up a consultancy after leaving government just under a year ago.
The MP’s independent consultancy will seek to provide strategic counsel to clients in the agri-tech, agri-food, waste management and water sectors, according to an advice letter from the government’s anti-corruption watchdog.
The Advisory Committee on Business Appointments said it considered whether the consultancy was “unsuitable” given its focus on the agri-tech, agri-food, waste management and water sectors, areas Eustice worked on as secretary of state at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs from 2020 to 2022. Prior to that, Eustice served as a minister at the department from May 2015.
Acoba said there is a “significant risk” that clients, particularly in the agri-food industry, water and waste sectors, could gain from Eustice’s privileged insight and the decisions he made in office.
But it said these risks were mitigated by Eustice being out of office for almost a year, the multiple changes in administration – with two prime ministers and two environment secretaries appointed since his exit – and the policies he was involved in either being altered by successors or already implemented.
The committee also accepted that Eustice was continuing his career in the agri-food industry, water and waste sectors, and had possessed detailed technical knowledge in these sectors prior to joining government. Eustice studied horticulture and worked in sectors including food retail, livestock production, soft fruit production and field scale vegetable production before becoming an MP. He was also a member of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee before becoming a minister.
The watchdog said risks remained that his privileged insight and influence “could be seen to offer an unfair advantage to future clients” or that contacts made whilst in government could be used to gain business. To mitigate these risks, it said Eustice should not – for two years after leaving government – draw on privileged information; lobby the UK government; make improper use of contacts gained in government service; and work on bids and contacts with the UK government.
Eustice told the committee he would not have any direct contact with ministers or officials. In response, the committee reminded him that “facilitating indirect contact to influence government decisions on behalf of your consulting/clients would be inappropriate given the lobbying ban”, which applies to all former ministers for two years after leaving office.
The advice only provides Eustice consent to set up the consultancy. Eustice must now write to Acoba for advice on each commission his consultancy wishes to take up until September 2024.
Explaining why, the committee said: “The risks under the rules will be most significant where you seek to provide advice on matters where you made decisions or had access to sensitive information in office – these applications will need close scrutiny.
“The committee will want to carefully consider the suitability of this work, and may advise that a further waiting period is required. Where conditions and a suitable waiting period cannot appropriately mitigate the risks, the committee may advise the work is unsuitable to take up within the two years the rules apply. The committee will consider such risks on a case by case basis.”