"Toothless" revolving doors watchdog needs greater powers

Today (24 April 2017) the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) published a report on their inquiry into the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACoBA).

ACoBA regulates the post-public employment and appointments of former ministers and civil servants. The damning report labelled ACoBA a “toothless regulator which has failed to change the climate of opinion and business appointments.” Crucially, the report highlights that “neither the ACoBA process nor the Rules it administers, are sufficiently robust to command public confidence in its advice and decisions, or capable of protecting the reputation of those who have complied with its rules and followed its processes.”

The committee’s chair, Bernard Jenkin MP, warned that a failure to take steps to improve the ACoBA system would lead to “an even greater decline in public trust in our democracy and our Government.

Unlock Democracy’s Director, Alexandra Runswick, gave oral evidence to the committee in October 2016, following Unlock Democracy’s submission of written evidence, prepared jointly with SpinWatch.  

Responding to the report, Alexandra Runswick said:

“Unlock Democracy wholeheartedly welcomes PACAC’s report, which follows the committee’s strong track record of pushing for positive reforms in this area. Greater transparency around appointments of ex-public officials and robust scrutiny of the roles they want to take up are both vital to instilling public confidence that former government officials are not exploiting public service for the pursuit of personal profit.

“Public trust in the government is seriously damaged when the impression is given that former ministers and civil servants exploit their roles as public servants. This was exemplified by the recent outcry over former Chancellor George Osborne’s decision to take up numerous side jobs, including Editor of the Evening Standard, all alongside holding his Tatton constituency seat. When former ministers open themselves up to potential conflicts of interest and ignore ACoBA, constituents cannot help but feel that their representatives in Parliament are not taking this important role seriously.

“ACoBA must be empowered to set tougher rules and investigate those who flout them. Without the power to penalise those who break the rules, only the illusion of regulation exists. We must put an end to the practice of government officials treating public service as work experience to gain lucrative private sector jobs, and to do this an empowered regulator is essential.”

The full report is available to read here.

Watch Unlock Democracy’s Director give oral evidence to the committee here.  

Read the joint written submission by Unlock Democracy and SpinWatch here.