A cross-party initiative aimed at cutting down on bureaucracy as part of Brexit is being advised by a consultancy set up by David Cameron’s former strategy director, documents published by appointments watchdog Acoba have revealed.
The Advisory Committee on Business Appointments had previously criticised Ameetpal Gill for launching a consultancy and securing clients before the watchdog had offered its advice on the venture’s suitability under anti-corruption rules for former crown servants.
Now it has emerged that Gill's Hanbury Strategy consultancy is advising the Red Tape Initiative, launched by former Cabinet Office minister Oliver Letwin last summer with the aim of identifying and dealing with business-harming bureaucratic burdens as part of the Brexit process.
Gill left No 10 in July 2016 and founded Hanbury Strategy with Paul Stephenson, who was a special adviser to Philip Hammond during his time as transport secretary and who subsequently worked as communications director for the Vote Leave campaign.
Gill had been one of the staffers who were controversially awarded 20%-plus salary rises in the months before Cameron’s downfall – against the advice of civil service chief executive and Cabinet Office permanent secretary John Manzoni.
In a 2016 letter to Manzoni, Acoba vented “concern” over Gill’s plan, and said the former strategy director would need to clear each contract his consultancy won with it during the two-year period that officials’ post-government work is subject to scrutiny.
Under the rules former ministers and ex-crown employees are banned from lobbying government and misusing privileged information obtained while they were in public office.
A letter published this week revealed Acoba advised Gill last May on Hanbury's contract with the Red Tape Initiative. It recorded that Gill had not personally secured the contract and would not be involved in the research provided to the organisation, which it suggested would consist of reports put together by other Hanbury staff, based on publicly available information.
Acoba secretariat Sarah Parkington concluded by reminding Gill of his obligations neither to draw on privileged information available to him from his time in Westminster, nor to become personally involved in lobbying the government on behalf of the Red Tape Initiative before until the two-year limit had passed.
Other Hanbury commissions on which Gill has sought Acoba advice include work with GlaxoSmithKline, Deliveroo, Linklaters, Herbert Smith Freehills, Barclays, Second Home, Bulb Energy, AggregateIQ Data Services, KPMG, the UK Policy Group, the Elton John AIDS Foundation, and the Coalition for Global Prosperity.
Elsewhere, Acoba’s latest publications include new jobs for a host of former ministers and senior officials.
Former defence secretary Sir Michael Fallon was cleared to become non-executive chairman of newly formed property firm Avanton. Acoba said Fallon had reported that the company, owned by Omer Weinberger, had no relationship with the Ministry of Defence and had no interest in any defence sites.
Acoba noted that Fallon was a former development director of Quality Care Homes, Bannatyne Fitness, and the Just Learning day nurseries business, where he had responsibility for finding and developing property sites. Fallon resigned from the government in November in the wake of allegations over his personal conduct.
Former culture minister Ed Vaizey was cleared by Acoba to take on roles with technology media and telecommunications consultant LionTree, International Group Management, Fuse North East, the National Youth Theatre of Great Britain, and the International eGames Committee.
Angie Ridgwell, former director general for finance and corporate services at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, was cleared to become interim chief executive at Lancashire County Council. Acoba’s letter approving her appointment was dated December 2017, however the local authority made its own announcement at the end of October.
Acoba also published new appointments details for former GCHQ director Robert Hannigan, who it last year criticised when his appointment with US cybersecurity firm BluteamGlobal was made public before the panel’s endorsement had been given.
Hannigan’s new roles include work as an unpaid senior associate with think tank the Royal United Services Institute and as a trustee with the Bletchley Park Trust.
Acoba’s 2016-17 Annual Report, published in July, said the committee said it had received 140 applications from civil servants and 104 from former ministers over the year.
It does not name former ministers or officials whose appointments are deemed unsuitable, but the 2017 report said eight applications had been withdrawn over the course of the year. One reason for the withdrawal of applications is that they were deemed unsuitable.