'Blair's people' face sleaze scrutiny

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The Independent Online
THE Prime Minister has been told by a committee of MPs to open to public scrutiny lists of "Blair's People", the appointees who since last May have been involved with more than 50 task forces and review panels.

Fears that the extension of the Prime Minister's powers of patronage to the task forces could lead to sleaze were raised by the Commons Select Committee on Public Administration, chaired by a former Labour frontbench spokesman, Rhodri Morgan, the Labour MP for Cardiff West.

Yesterday, Mr Morgan told The Independent: "These task forces are completely new to the British system and they involve ministers, civil servants and appointees. They are right at the heart of government, and they are not like quangos which are outside, at arm's length.

"It is for that reason that a colossal privilege of influence is being given to the task forces. We are not talking about pay. We are talking about influence. The appointments need to be regulated, monitored and audited for abuses of privilege."

A host of task forces, mixing celebrities, pop stars, prominent industrialists, a few trade unionists, ministers and civil servants, have been appointed by ministers since the election but so far none has been subjected to public scrutiny.

They are largely unpaid, and include Sir David Puttnam, the film producer; fashion designer Paul Smith; Alan McGee, head of Creation Records and a major party donor, and Virgin boss Richard Branson. All are members of the creative industries task force.

Not all the team members are Labour supporters. Other teams include David Mellor, the former Tory minister, appointed by fellow Chelsea fan, Tony Banks, the sports minister, as chairman of the football task force.

Other teams include designer Terence Conran, John Monks, the Trades Union Congress general secretary, Adair Turner, head of the Confederation of British Industry, and trade union leader John Edmonds (competitiveness); and Sir Peter Davis, chief executive of the Prudential, trade union leaders Bill Morris, and Rodney Bickerstaffe, and Shami Ahmed, the boss of Joe Bloggs jeans (welfare to work).

The committee said they should be brought within the scope of public scrutiny by Sir Len Peach, the Commissioner for Public Appointments.The Government has announced it is opening up nationalised industries, public corporations and the regulators to checks on appointments by Sir Len, but not the task forces.

The committee said 22 task forces had been established, with 48 advisory groups, panels, or review bodies, plus two cross-departmental policy co- ordination bodies. "Departments seem to be free to select members of such bodies as they wish, despite the fact that they may have considerable influence and prestige. We believe that this is an anomalous and unacceptable situation.

"There should clearly be rules and guidance for these appointments as well. We recommend that the Government bring all advisory bodies, groups and task forces within the remit of the commissioner," it said.