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Second careers chief suspended

A SECOND senior official from the Government's Careers Information Centre has been suspended in an internal inquiry into the awarding of marketing and public-relations contracts.

Anne Widdecombe, Under-Secretary of State for Employment, confirmed in a parliamentary answer to John Hutton, MP for Barrow and Furness, that another executive had been disciplined.

Aubrey Magill, sales and marketing manager at COIC, has already been suspended. The other official is believed to be senior to Mr Magill.

From its Sheffield headquarters, COIC produces pamphlets for schools and careers offices nation-wide. It also publishes Newscheck, a monthly magazine for school- leavers and careers teachers, an annual directory, Occupation, and publications with the BBC.

The inquiry was prompted by allegations from a COIC project manager and commissioning editor about the way a small marketing agency in the Midlands had picked up the centre's pounds 350,000 public relations and promotions contract. He maintained that official rules on the tendering out of contracts had been flouted.

His charges coincided with the claim of a former member of COIC who left to set up a rival operation that senior COIC staff had denied him work and tried to put him out of business.

Valerie Bayliss, head of youth and education policy at the Department of Employment, said in a letter: 'Every effort is made to maintain the Civil Service's reputation for integrity and impartiality. As you know, we were already aware of the possibility that problems had arisen and thought it necessary to look not only at the award of the contract to the marketing- public relations agency . . . but at all contracts placed by COIC during 1993.'

The investigation, said Ms Bayliss, was being 'carried out by a joint team from this department's Internal Audit and Management Services. They found breaches of the departmental procedures that are intended to safeguard public money'.

Other contracts under investigation are understood to include publishing, printing and distribution. In an earlier Commons answer, Ms Widdecombe said COIC had placed contracts worth pounds 2.2m.

Mr Hutton said he was still concerned about the slowness of the inquiry, which is now in its second month. 'It would be a tragedy if the important and worthwhile service provided by COIC was brought into question.'