It is essential to improve the public’s confidence in our politicians and our governing class. It is especially true of politicians following the long expenses scandal. The Ministerial code makes it plain that “Ministers must scrupulously avoid any danger of an actual or PERCEIVED [my italics] conflict of interest between their Ministerial position and their private financial interests.” Yet time and again Ministers, soon after ceasing to be a Minister, take employment from companies that inhabit the territory over which the Minister previously made crucial decisions.

Recent examples have been Chris Huhne and Charles Hendry, both of them Ministers of State of Energy and Climate Change. In the case of Charles Hendry he signed an energy pact with Iceland, while he was the relevant Minister; but within less than a year after being sacked, he took a job from an importer of Icelandic Power. However honourable Mr Hendry may have been, and surely he was, this is not enough to obliterate a possible perception of a cosy elite profiting from conflict of interest.

The length of time between other types public employment and private employment in related industries should also be lengthened. For instance, there have been far too many army grandees walking into jobs with companies that they have previously helped, either directly or indirectly. And the same is true for civil servants.

When people now retire, say, at 60, their skills, energy and knowledge are still invaluable. So it is natural that they should want employment, and natural that they should go into areas about which they are
knowledgeable. But a touch on the tiller is needed to stop the public suspecting so often that there has been a conflict of interest.

According to Wikipedia, the movement of senior civil servants and government ministers into business roles is overseen by the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACOBA), but this is not a statutory body and has only advisory powers. A Transparency International UK report on the subject, published in May 2011, called for ACOBA to be replaced by a statutory body with greater powers to regulate the post-public employment of former ministers and crown servants.

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