MP raises fears over shares held by civil servants

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Concern about civil servants' shareholdings was raised in the Commons yesterday, with an MP alleging that the Chief Inspector of Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Pollution held shares in a consultancy firm that had been awarded a contract by the Department of the Environment.

Simon Hughes, Liberal Democrat MP for Southwark and Bermondsey, put down a parliamentary question to Michael Howard, Secretary of State for the Environment, asking when his department was told of shares, in a company called DNV Technica, allegedly held by David Slater, who became chief inspector in May last year. He also asked what consideration had been given to a 'possible conflict of interest' in Dr Slater's appointment, and in awarding 'a contract to DNV Technica by single tender in August 1991'.

Although that question was due for answer today, one source told the Independent last night that Dr Slater had not held shares in DNV Technica, but in a company called Technica Ltd, of which he had been a founding director in 1981.

The source was unclear as to whether there was any relationship between the two companies. But he did say that Dr Slater had 'divested himself' of his Technica shareholding on appointment.

As for the DNV Technica contract, it was said the company had been picked by competitive tender to advise the department in December 1989, before Dr Slater's appointment was announced, and that contract had been extended the following May. Mr Howard said in a Commons reply last month that work on the initial contract, 'an evaluation of currently available technologies for abating nitrogen oxide emissions from large combustion plants', had been completed last March.

Last night, Mr Hughes tabled a Commons motion, in which he suggested that 'Dr Slater's shareholding illustrates the potential conflict of interests presented by senior civil servants' shareholdings . . .' The motion also suggested that existing civil service requirements for voluntary disclosure of any conflict of interest were 'inadequate', and called on the Prime Minister to set up a 'compulsory and public register of interests for all senior civil servants of Grade 7 (principal) and above, to include Chief Executives of all agencies and Next Steps Agencies as well as special advisers to ministers'.

In a separate move, Mr Hughes put down Commons questions to individual ministers, asking what guidance was available on shareholdings to officials within their departments. He asked them to 'list the . . occasions within the last five years on which civil servants have reported shareholdings to establishment officers', what rules applied to staff of Next Steps Agencies, and 'what mechanisms are in place to prevent potential conflicts of interest'.

(Photograph omitted)

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