Lord Fraser strikes oil

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The Independent Online
The booming oil industry appears to be running a job creation service for former government ministers. Lord Fraser, who held the energy portfolio under John Major, is the latest politician to drill for black gold: he is to join the board of the International Petroleum Exchange.

This follows former foreign secretary Malcolm Rifkind being taken on by BHP's oil division and by Ramco Energy as a non-executive director. Mr Rifkind, who trained as a lawyer, has won a part-time post as director of international strategy with the Australian company, which has substantial North Sea interests.

Michael Portillo started the trend by joining offshore services company, Kerr-McGee. The former defence secretary is taking on an international relations position in the exploration division. Mr Portillo lost a "safe" seat on 1 May but has said he is still interested in returning to parliament. He is a history graduate and worked as a City energy analyst before moving into politics.

Lord Fraser is following a well-trodden path of energy ministers who join the industry they once presided over. One of his predecessors, Tim Eggar, is currently the chairman of AGIP UK and Monument Oil. He is also on the board of offshore contracting company, Kellock.

It is not all one-way traffic. Former British Petroleum chairman, Lord Simon of Highbury, agreed to take on a new role as minister for trade and competitiveness in Europe under the new government.

But he has not found the transition easy, taking heavy criticism for refusing to sell his BP shares before taking up his new government role.

Critics say that former ministers are just cashing in their political contacts to the private sector. One oil industry executive, however, believes hiring high profile politicians makes a lot of sense.

"They tend to be very competent fellows in their own right as well as having with lots of good connections. But those without a direct knowledge of the industry are useful too. They bring a fresh perspective," he said.

The oil industry can easily afford to enrol former Westminster types. Higher oil prices coupled with lower operating costs means the industry is flush with excess cash.