Exodus of staff is 'stripping Whitehall'

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The Independent Online

Westminster Correspondent

Hardly any civil servants are prevented from taking up jobs in the private sector or made to wait, according to new figures.

Opposition suspicions that the Government has been turning a blind eye to its servants taking plum jobs in the City or industry are fuelled by a letter from John Horam, Parliamentary Secretary at the Office of Public Service. Replying to an earlier series of questions from Alan Milburn, Labour MP for Darlington, Mr Horam disclosed that of almost 600 applications for permission to leave for the private sector last year, 49 had restrictions imposed upon them.

Of these, 34 came from Customs & Excise. At the Ministry of Defence, 257 requests were made and only seven were made conditional. At the Department of Trade and Industry, all 79 officials who asked to jump ship were allowed to do so freely.

The Business Appointments Rules are intended to avoid any suspicion that a civil servant's behaviour might be influenced by the prospect of lucrative employment for an outside firm or that a firm might steal a march on its competitors by obtaining inside knowledge from its new recruit.

The most senior civil servants - permanent secretary level - are made to wait a minimum of three months before taking up a new job in the private sector. Approval must be obtained from the Prime Minister, after receiving advice from the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments.

At Grade 3 level and above, applications are considered by the Head of the Home Civil Service. Other grades are considered by their departmental chiefs. Civil servants, regardless of grade, must seek permission if: they had dealings with their prospective employer in the last two years while working for the Crown; or they have had access to commercially sensitive information beneficial to their new employer; or they have made decisions benefiting the employer and the offer of a job could be seen as a reward; or they are to be employed as a consultant and have had commercial dealings with outside organisations during the past two years working for the Crown.

Possible conditions the Government can impose include being made to wait for up to two years, banned from any future dealings with the Government, prevented from dealing with their new employer's competitors or, if they are consultants, forced to seek official approval before undertaking a piece of work. Yet, despite these tightly-drawn requirements and a wide range of conditions, very few are caught. Of the almost 900 applications to leave the MoD since 1992, only 29 have been made conditional.

Mr Milburn said Mr Horam's figures confirmed his worst fears. "This exodus of civil servants is stripping Whitehall of talent and expertise. Even more disturbingly, all that wealth of knowledge and expertise is being transferred from the public to the private sector without any proper safeguarding of the public interest ...." t