Two lieutenant generals who left the Army less than 18 months ago are now working for companies fighting for a £400m Government defence contract set to be decided in the coming weeks, The Independent can reveal.
Both appointments were approved by the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba), with Prime Minister David Cameron’s agreement. MPs have called for the “impotent” body, which gives advice when former ministers and senior civil servants seek jobs in industry, to be scrapped.
Lieutenant General Sir Mark Mans, a former member of the Defence Infrastructure Board, left the army in December 2012. Three months later he landed a job with Capita Defence Services as a non-executive director.
The company is leading one of three consortia shortlisted for the £400m contract to run the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO), which manages a budget of billions, and thousands of Ministry of Defence properties.
Telereal Trillium, leading one of the other consortia being considered for the contract, appointed Lt Gen Sir Gary Coward, former Commander (Land), Defence Equipment and Support, as an adviser last June – eight months after he had left the Army.
The role “would involve advising the industry team in bidding and negotiating to become the Defence Infrastructure Organisation’s strategic business partner,” according to Acoba.
In the case of Lt Gen Mans, “The Prime Minister accepted the Committee’s advice that the application be approved” on condition that he wait three months between leaving the army and starting the job, that he not advise on bids or contracts for MoD work for 12 months, and that for two years “not become personally involved in lobbying UK Government on behalf of his new employer”.
As for Lt Gen Coward, the only condition proposed by Acoba was that he should wait for two years after leaving the army before personally lobbying the Government.
The latest example of the “revolving door” – where ministers and senior civil servants get lucrative jobs trading on the knowledge and contacts made in government – has prompted fresh demands for Acoba to be abolished.
Labour MP Paul Flynn said: “What should be the pinnacle of their careers, for politicians and civil servants of the highest rank, no longer is. Those jobs are now seen as a stepping stone to retirement riches.”
He accused Acoba of being “at best, impotent,” saying that the current system “invites corruption”. A spokesman for the Public and Commercial Services Union ?said: “We would have very serious concerns if this contract were to go to a company with such obvious ties to recently retired military officers.”
There is no suggestion that Lt Gen Coward or Lt Gen Mans has behaved improperly in any way. A Telereal Trillium spokesman said Lt Gen Coward’s “involvement with us on the DIO bid was specifically cleared through all the appropriate MoD channels.”
A Capita spokesperson said Lt General Mans “has not had any involvement in Capita’s Defence Infrastructure Organisation detailed bid submission or advised on the terms of the bid, nor has he had any engagement or discussions with any DIO employees or discussed the DIO bid with any other Government officials”.
Responding to the criticisms of Acoba, a Cabinet Office spokesman said: “The Government is committed to maintaining the highest standards of conduct in public life.”
What is Acoba?
The Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba) is just what it says – an advisory committee. This means it cannot force anyone to follow the advice it gives.
Its members are largely appointed by the Prime Minister, and the rules on business appointments are drawn up by the Cabinet Office. Established in 1975 to advise on the employment of senior civil servants by private firms, its remit was widened in 1995 to include former ministers.
All 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 members of the committee are Lord Lang, Mark Addison, Sir Colin Budd, Lord Dholakia, Mary-Jo Jacobi, Sir Hugh Stevenson, Lord Walker, and Baroness Liddell.
The usual forms of advice include asking that people to wait before starting a new job and not lobby former colleagues for up to two years.