COMMONS

Role of ACoBA and Independent Adviser on Ministers' Interests

20 July 2016

The Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACoBA) and the Independent Adviser on Ministers' Interests are tasked with the monitoring of the conduct of former and current holders of public office.

ACoBA

In its 2012 report, Business Appointment Rules (PDF 2.16 MB), the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) acknowledged the potential benefits and risks, associated with widespread interchange between the public and private or third sectors. However it felt that if public confidence in public servants was to be maintained then ACoBA must be seen to be managed effectively. A key recommendation was that the “existing Advisory Committee on Business Appointments be abolished and replaced by a new, statutory, Conflicts of Interest and Ethics Commissioner.” This was rejected by the Government.

On 19 April 2016, PACAC held a one-off evidence session with the Chair of ACoBA, Baroness Browning, to explore the work of ACoBA and the effectiveness of the Business Appointment Rules. It was evident that ongoing challenges remain.

Independent Adviser on Ministers’ Interests

In PASC's 2012 Business Appointment Rules evidence session, the Chair acknowledged that the role of the Independent Adviser on Ministers' Interests overlaps with the conflict of interest question relating to business appointment rules. In its 2012 report: The Prime Minister's adviser on Ministers' interests: independent or not? (PDF 313 KB), PASC repeated its call "for the holder to be appointed through a transparent open competition and subject to a pre-appointment hearing by a parliamentary select committee." The Government rejected this recommendation.

PACAC will follow up on the conclusions and recommendations from these two reports through holding an inquiry into the role and effectiveness of ACoBA and the Independent Adviser on Ministers' Interests.

The committee would welcome written submission on the following issues:

1. The role of ACoBA

  • What should ACoBA's primary function be and how has it changed since our 2012 report 'Business Appointment Rules (PDF 2.16 MB)'?
  • In its 2012 report PASC recommended that ACoBA be "abolished". How effective is ACoBA as an "advisory" body, and should its remit be extended to allow the Committee to enforce compliance with its advice?
  • In its 2012 report, PASC expressed concerns about the “low level of awareness of the Business Appointment Rules amongst relatively senior public servants". How should ACoBA deal with individuals who are not aware of, or do not consult ACoBA before taking up outside appointments?
  • In its 2012 report, PASC recommended that "the membership of ACoBA be reconsidered entirely, to ensure that it is able to command public trust and confidence in its decisions." Is ACoBA’s membership sufficiently reflective of our society?

2. The Business Appointment Rules

  • In 2012 PASC concluded that the Rules are not "clear about the principles and considerations which should guide the advisory committee's decision."
  • How effective are the Business Appointment Rules – for example is there sufficient clarity with regard to the definition of lobbying?
    Should the Business Appointment Rules be better integrated into the Ministerial Code?
  • With increasing annual numbers of former civil servants seeking permission to take up outside appointments, how can we ensure that the Business Appointment Rules are fit for today's purpose?

3. The "revolving door" between the public and private sector

  • Why is there still a prevalent negative public perception of former Ministers taking advantage of their previous positions?
  • In its 2012 report (PDF 2.16 MB), PASC acknowledged the likely increase in "numbers of civil servants moving between Whitehall and the private Sector". Is ACoBA equipped to address the growing concerns about the operation of the revolving door between the public and private sector?
  • What safeguards exist to ensure that ex Ministers do not take up senior external appointments which are closely aligned to their previous official responsibilities?
  • What has been the impact of the Government not taking forward PASC's key recommendations in their March 2012 report (PDF 313 KB) and July 2012 report (PDF 189 KB)?
  • What institutional, or other barriers exist, which prevent the Government from accepting PASC's key recommendations?

4. The Independent Adviser on Ministers' Interests

  • As recommended in PASC's 2012 report (PDF 2.16 MB), should there be a more structured coordination of the work of the regulators of propriety in public life?
  • In its 2012 report, PASC repeated its call for the post holder to be "subject to a pre-appointment hearing by a parliamentary select committee." How can public confidence be maintained with regard to the "independence" of the Adviser on Ministers' Interests?
  • Should the Adviser role be accountable to Parliament or the Prime Minister?

The deadline for written submissions is Monday 12 September 2016.

Guidance on written submissions

The personal information you supply will be processed in accordance with the provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998 for the purposes of attributing the evidence you submit and contacting you as necessary in connection with its processing. The Clerk of the House of Commons is the data controller for the purposes of the Act. We may also ask you to comment on the process of submitting evidence via the web portal so that we can look to make improvements.

Each submission should:

  • be no more than 3,000 words in length
  • be in Word format with as little use of colour or logos as possible
  • have numbered paragraphs
  • include a declaration of interests.

Please note that:

Material already published elsewhere should not form the basis of a submission, but may be referred to within a memorandum, in which case a hard copy of the published work should be included.

Memoranda submitted must be kept confidential until published by the Committee, unless publication by the person or organisation submitting it is specifically authorised.

Once submitted, evidence is the property of the Committee. The Committee normally, though not always, chooses to make public the written evidence it receives, by publishing it on the internet (where it will be searchable), by printing it or by making it available through the Parliamentary Archives. If there is any information you believe to be sensitive you should highlight it and explain what harm you believe would result from its disclosure. The Committee will take this into account in deciding whether to publish or further disclose the evidence.

PACAC welcomes evidence from a wide variety of journalists/public commentators on this topic. If you have concerns about any submitted evidence being made publicly available please email pacac@parliament.uk

Further information

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