The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee has found that the regulatory system for scrutinising the post public employment of former ministers and civil servants is ineffectual and does not inspire public confidence or respect.
The report came after the outcry over former Chancellor George Osborne’s six jobs – due to be cut to five when he stands down as MP for Tatton – and alleged “cashing in” by other former ministers.
The committee reported that failures of governments to regulate properly have damaged public trust in politics and public institutions and led to repeated scandals.
The monitoring body ACoBA has failed to improve the climate of opinion around business appointments. There are numerous loopholes, including civil servants at lower levels who have responsibility for commercial management or developing policy who are not regulated by ACoBA.
There are also gaps in ACoBA’s monitoring process with insufficient attention paid to the principles that should govern business appointments, or the values which it should be seeking to promote.
A system to manage conflicts of interest needs more than just a code of rules and declarations, the committee said. A principles-based system, if it is effectively taught by leaders and learned by everyone to be intrinsic to the public service, creates an expectation that individuals will act with integrity, and regulate their own behaviour and attitudes according to those principles. The Committee believes there should be independent checks across all Government Departments and Executive Agencies to reinforce this, particularly where the risk of conflicts of interest is high. This should be reflected in changes to the Ministerial and Civil Service Codes.
In addition, the Cabinet Office must publish aggregated data on all applications of members of the Senior Civil Service below SCS3, and the departmental decisions made on them, showing proportions approved without conditions, and, in the case of conditionality, the categories of decisions made. The data must also cover Executive Agencies. All of the above data should be aggregated and available on the ACoBA website.
Crucially, no ex-minister should take a private sector job involved in his or her previous remit for at least two years.
PACAC chair Bernard Jenkin said: “Without greater clarity and understanding of what moral behaviour is expected of public servants, the culture has become established in public life, that individuals are entitled to capitalise on their public sector experience when they move into the private sector without clear boundaries. This is the “new normal”, and public confidence in the effectiveness of ACoBA’s advice to former Ministers and civil servants will continue to diminish further.”
He added: “The Government must take steps to ensure that the ACoBA system is improved swiftly. In the long term, failure do so will lead to an even greater decline in public trust in our democracy and our Government.”