Steve April 15, 2021

The head of the watchdog that advises politicians and top civil servants when they take up jobs in the private sector has said the system needs urgent reform.

Giving evidence to MPs, Tory peer Lord Pickles said there were “anomalies” in the system that needed “immediate address”.

It comes after news a top civil servant worked for Greensill Capital while still on the government payroll.

It is at the centre of a lobbying row.

The government has announced a review of contacts between top officials and ministers, including former prime minister David Cameron, and the now failed finance firm.

Lord Pickles, a former cabinet minister, chairs the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba) which advises former ministers and civil servants on outside employment.

His appearance before the public administration committee has been long planned but comes as a row is engulfing Westminster about former politicians and civil servants moving from government to business roles.

On Tuesday it emerged that a former government procurement officer, Bill Crothers, joined Greensill as an adviser in 2015 whilst still working as a civil servant after getting the go-ahead from the Cabinet Office.

Lord Pickles wrote to the top civil servant there, Alex Chisholm, expressing concern about a lack of transparency.

Answering questions from MPs about the matter he said he had discovered that Mr Crothers had not had to seek his committee’s advice when moving to take up a position with Greensill Capital.

He added: “It appears he was not isolated in that position.

“I think it also highlights a number of anomalies within the system that require I think immediate address”.

He said “simple steps could be taken now” to tighten up the system and that it was necessary to “look carefully at contracts of employment”.

Acoba has been criticised by MPs in the past for being a “toothless watchdog” but Lord Pickles has indicated he wants more powers to prevent former top officials and ministers abusing their positions.

In a Commons hearing when he got the Acoba job, he said: “I do think it’s important for us to reassure the public that people do not personally get financial remuneration on the basis of privileged information they’ve obtained.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson told MPs on Wednesday it was “not clear” that “boundaries have been properly understood”.

from the BBC

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