Watchdog voices ‘concern’ over ex-GCHQ chief's new job

ACOBA says cybersecurity role with US firm was announced before it had approved the appointment


By Jim.Dunton

21 Sep 2017

The anti-corruption watchdog tasked with vetting new appointments taken up by former senior civil servants and ministers has revealed its frustration at being unable to properly consider a consultancy role sought by the former director of GCHQ before it was announced.

According to just-published correspondence from the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments, Robert Hannigan’s new role as the head of the European advisory board for US cybersecurity firm BluteamGlobal was made public without getting the panel’s endorsement.

Hannigan stepped down from his role at the helm of the Government Communications Headquarters surveillance centre in April after just two years in post, for what were described as “personal reasons”.


Normally, senior civil servants and former ministers need to seek clearance from ACOBA for any new roles for two years after their final day in office, in a bid to dissuade them from trading on their access to Whitehall contacts when seeking new employment. ACOBA will then canvas the views of permanent secretaries and ministers before issuing its advice, which can be that the desired role is “unsuitable”.

A letter published today by ACOBA secretariat Nicola Richardson said Hannigan had proposed to take up posts with security firm BlueteamGlobal as well as a paid “thought-leadership” role with Hiscox Insurance.

While Hannigan was cleared to take up the Hiscox role – after consultation with prime minister Theresa May among others, ACOBA declined to offer advice on the BlueteamGlobal role retrospectively.

“The committee noted that BlueteamGlobal announced the launch of its operations by press release on 3 August 2017,” Richardson wrote.

“The press release also referred to senior leaders from the private sector and national security agencies that have been recruited to the company, including Mr Hannigan’s appointment as head of the company’s European advisory board.

“The committee would like to register its concern that Mr Hannigan’s appointment with BlueteamGlobal was announced before the committee had the opportunity to provide its advice.

“The government’s business appointment rules for former Crown servants specify that retrospective applications will not normally be accepted. 

“To fulfil the remit given to it by government, the committee needs to be able to consider an application fully and freely before offering its advice. 

“It is impossible to do this in a way that will command public confidence if an appointment has already been announced and/or taken up. The committee is therefore unwilling to give retrospective advice for this appointment.”

Despite declining to give advice on the BlueteamGlobal role, ACOBA did not call for Hannigan to step away from the post. Instead it encouraged him to follow the same best-practice guidance in the role that it advised for his Hiscox job, which included not drawing on privileged information from GCHQ or lobbying government for two years. 

ACOBA’s 2016-17 Annual Report, published in July, said that nine retrospective applications seeking advice after a job had been accepted during the 12-month period covered – flying in the face of the rules.

The committee said it had received 140 applications from civil servants and 104 from former ministers over the year.

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