Sleaze row over rail regulator's new job

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Tom Winsor, the former rail regulator, was caught up in a row last night over moves by Tony Blair to weaken anti-sleaze measures on ministers and civil servants cashing in on their expertise with private companies.

Tom Winsor, the former rail regulator, was caught up in a row last night over moves by Tony Blair to weaken anti-sleaze measures on ministers and civil servants cashing in on their expertise with private companies.

A letter is being sent to Tony Blair by Gwyneth Dunwoody, the chairman of the cross-party Commons Select Committee on Transport, protesting at a Department of Transport deal that will allow Mr Winsor to advise some clients on railways only three months after leaving his high-profile public post, instead of the normal two years.

Mr Winsor, who was a leading rail lawyer before becoming rail regulator five years ago, left public office on 4 July. The following day, he joined the solicitors White and Case as a partner specialising in rail schemes and other large-scale projects. He is subject to a minimum three-month moratorium on giving legal advice to clients about railways in Britainwhich will be lifted for most cases from 5 October.

Senior MPs, including two committee chairmen and a Tory frontbench spokesman, called on Mr Blair to toughen the rules that were introduced as part of anti-sleaze measures by John Major, the former Tory prime minister, under which the general requirement has been for a two-year moratorium.

A committee chaired by Lord Mayhew which advises the Prime Minister on business appointments has called for tougher restrictions but has been overruled by Mr Blair.

The MPs are also angry that Mr Blair appointed Sir Patrick Brown, a former permanent secretary at the Transport Department, to review the anti-sleaze rules. Sir Patrick joined the bus and rail company Go Ahead with a £69,000-a-year directorship in 1999.

David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary said: "These restrictions were put in place for a good reason ­ that the public can be confident decisions being taken by public servants were not influenced by future employment in the private sector. Any erosion of these rules is an erosion of the standards of public service and is to be deplored. Any review of these rules should be carried out by somebody who not been a beneficiary of a transfer of skills to the private sector."

There is no suggestion of wrongdoing by Mr Winsor.

In spite of a three-month moratorium, White and Case's website says that Mr Winsor's arrival gives "us an instant leadership position in terms of rail and economic regulatory experience that we can call upon on behalf of our clients".

Alistair Darling, the Transport Secretary, has imposed five conditions on Mr Winsor's work in the private sector, including a moratorium of three months of providing legal advice for any client in respect of any aspect of railways in Great Britain. For six months, Mr Winsor is barred from providing legal advice to any train or freight operation company with rail interests in Britain. He is barred for 12 months from advising any company in whose favour, acting as rail regulator, he determined a legal appeal. For two years, he is also barred from advising Network Rail or any of its subsidiaries. He is under an obligation for two years to notify the Transport Secretary of any other possible conflict of interest.

CROSSING OVER

Sir Christopher Meyer, former ambassador to US, and press chief to John Major, retired February 2003, to become chairman of the Press Complaints Commission. Directorships include Riggs National Corporation and non-executive director of GKN.

Alan Milburn, former health secretary, barred for a year under ministerial rules from joining lobbying companies; joined the advisory committee of Bridgepoint Capital Ltd, a finance company involved in public-to-private deals, a year after leaving office.

Vice-admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham, deputy chief of defence staff. Barred for six months from lobbying officials or ministers after he retired from service in September 2002. Became UK president of European Aerospace and Defence Systems.

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