Article I published on January 12, 2016
Someone now listening?
Revolving door to retirement riches spins
Published in the International Business Times UK
Why do we allow former politicians to become high-paid advisers on companies they used to regulate?
By Paul Flynn MP
January 12, 2016 14:16 GMT 1
At least 25 former ministers from Cameron's coalition are raking in over £1m between them.
The revolving door from high public office to private company sinecure is spinning as freely as ever. At least 25 former ministers from David Cameron's coalition are raking in over £1m ($1.4m) between them.
Five former members of the prime minister's cabinet are among dozens of ex-coalition ministers earning up to £600 an hour in the sectors they used to regulate. Most have plum part-time roles as directors, advisers or board chairmen.
The job of the Commons watchdog, the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba), is to restrict the abuse of former ministers, civil servants and generals by selling their insider knowledge and contacts to the highest bidder. But it is a fawning pussycat without teeth or claws.
Informed born-again lobbyists are placed into influential commercial positions where they are motivated by private greed – not the public's good. The tentacles of this permissive system penetrate deeply and threaten the integrity of public life.
The roles of top civil servants, generals or government ministers were traditionally the pinnacles of careers. Now they are often judged as stepping stones on the climb to retirement riches. When in office, decisions involving billions may be subtly influenced by a nod or a wink in favour of the prospect of lucrative job in retirement and a hacienda in Spain.
Rules on taking on private work
Under the present regime of permissiveness and snoozing Acoba, they have broken no rules. But alarm bells are ringing and a Select Committee probe is now planned.
All former ministers are obliged to seek the committee's advice if they take on any job within two years of leaving office. And cabinet ministers are expected to wait a minimum of three months before taking private work.
The work of Acoba is justly mocked. Its previous chair, Lord Lang, was interviewed by the Dispatches sting team that forced transport secretary Stephen Byers, former health secretary Patricia Hewitt and former defence secretary Geoff Hoon into suspension from the Parliamentary Labour Party in 2010 for allegedly "bringing it into disrepute". Lang did not commit himself into working for the bogus job offered but he sent his CV to the Dispatches team for further consideration.
New chair Tory peer Angela Browning was cross-examined by the Public Administration Committee at a ludicrous "retrospective pre-appointment" hearing confirmation of her role. She was a minister in the Home Office until 2011 and is now paid between £300 and £800 a day for occasional work for a political consultancy firm that trains people in the health industry on topics such as "how to influence the political agenda".
Well-paid retirement roles
Nearly all other members of her committee are drawn from the great and the good that regard £60,000 for a part-time retirement job as normal entitlement for themselves and for their chums. Acoba has never banned a minister from taking a job and its recommendations on restricting lobbying are not binding. They have no powers to enforce them.
I submitted evidence on the Revolving Door to the Kelly committee on standards a few years ago. I urged them to nail two former generals who criticised Gordon Brown for low military spending. They later became paid advisers to arms companies. The committee did not act. They were too preoccupied with duck houses and moats at the time.
The spectre of parliamentary sleaze is returning and we are slipping back into the bad old ways that led to the expenses scandal. As I told the Commons last week, bodies in the House took lenient decisions on the recent cases involving Malcolm Rifkind, Jack Straw, Tim Yeo and Lord Blencathra but independent voices outside, including a court and Ofcom, took harsh decisions.
Parliament should act swiftly to strengthen our internal controls on standards. Restoring the public's trust in parliamentarians should be a prime objective after the self-lacerating nightmare of the expenses scandal. At the moment, though, the impetus for reform is weakening and new scandals loom.