Friday 5 April 2013

Abolish ACOBA

The Chair of the committee that advises on business appointments to departing senior civil servants is a director of a company that has won a contract related to the Health and Social Care Act in which he voted in favour.

Lord Lang of Monkton is the chair of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACOBA). Set up in 1975, the remit of the committee is given by the Chairman Lord Lang on the website

‘It is long-standing government policy that it is in the public interest that those with experience in government should be able to move into business or other areas of public life and it is equally important that in the taking up of an appointment, there is no cause for suspicion of impropriety.’

Lord Lang of Monkton is also the director of Marsh & McLennan, a risk and strategy management company that amongst other services helps ‘hospitals, insurers, pharmaceutical companies and industry associations understand the implications of changing policy environments". 

Despite this interest, Lord Lang along with 142 other peers with recent or present financial links to companies involved in private healthcare, was able to vote on the Health and Social Care bill helping it become an Act. The Conservative peer did indeed vote in all key divisions loyal to his party.

In February 2011 Marsh was appointed by the Department of Health to conduct an ‘industry review’ of the NHS Litigation Authority. The objective of the review was to ‘identify opportunities to introduce greater commercial management and practice to services.

Early days
ACOBA was initially created to provide advice on applications from the most senior Crown servants who wish to take up outside appointments after they leave Crown service. The work of the committee then expanded from 1995 to provide advice to Ministers on their employment for two years after leaving office.

The organisation’s inability to prevent the conflicts of interests that riddle both parliamentary houses led the transparency campaigners Spinwatch to call for ACOBA’s abolition.

In written evidence submitted to the Public Administration Committee on a report on business appointment rules, they pointed out the danger private interests being in a position to gain ‘a competitive advantage by virtue of the inside knowledge, contacts and networks developed while in (temporary) public service.’

Further evidence focused on McKinsey, the management consultancy company that encouraged the £20 billion cuts the NHS is now forced to apply and who made several suggestions to end the free at the point of need in Northern Ireland.

Spinwatch pointed out how Tom Kibasi who ‘started at McKinsey in 2004, left two years later to become Senior Policy Advisor to chief executive of the NHS David Nicholson, and moved back to McKinsey in 2008, where he’s been busy helping the DH reform the system.’ Further revolving door behaviour came in the form of David Cox, who ‘worked in the NHS, jumped ship to McKinsey, then moved to the Conservative Party’s “Implementation team” for nine months, before settling at NHS London as “Strategy Manager” responsible for “cutting-edge system-wide design and planning of London’s healthcare system strategy.”’

Ex-NHS hospital head Mark Goldman is now an adviser for the ‘McKinsey Hospital Institute, (which contracts its services to NHS hospitals); ex-McKinsey consultant Nick Moberly who is now CEO of Royal Surrey County Hospital; Dr Doug Russell, ex-medical director of Tower Hamlets and now senior advisor to McKinsey.’

Such links are but the tip of the iceberg, which Spinwatch rightfully concluded continue despite the existence of ACOBA, which led them to conclude ‘We believe that ACOBA is an ineffective body that should be abolished and replaced with a statutory regulator.’

All civil servants who go through the site are told either it is okay to take up this job without conditions or if conditions apply then a standard reply is given such as - so long as it is on the understanding that the person ‘would not draw on any privileged information from his time in Government.’

When Jim Easton left his position as ‘Director of Improvement and Efficiency’, at the Department of Health to become Managing director of Care UK, ACOBA stated that there must be a waiting period of three months from his last day of service; that for 12 months, he should not become involved in advising on bids or contracts for Department of Health business; and that, for two years from the same date, he should not become personally involved in lobbying UK Government on behalf of his new employer.

Do you trust that this won’t happen in some form? Do we honestly believe that when a person moves to a corporation they do not pass on information to their corporate employer on government thinking!

The line between public servants and corporate employees is practically non-existent which Spinwatch suggests would be much better served with a statutory regulator because ACOBA lacks ‘teeth’. ACOBA has no enforcement powers, so even if a person was to step out of line, nothing would be done, which is why Paul Flynn, Labour’s tireless campaigner on lobbying described it as a ‘Committee of Futility.’

In the meantime, they can start improving things by removing a chairman who voted on a health bill despite a financial link to a company who earned a contract from the NHS on the changes before it became an Act. A Lord who offered his services to a fake lobbying company in a 2010 Channel 4 sting. 

The committee is utterly flawed, the work they do has made no difference to combat the problems of the revolving door of civil servants working in the private sector only to return on the corporations behalf.
I add my voice to those of Spinwatch and Paul Flynn calling for its abolition. Also the resignation of Lord Lang from both ACOBA and the Lords. 

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