Watchdog censures former borders bigwig over government consultancy contract

Acoba finds that former senior official Glyn Smith breached appointment rules after returning to the Home Office as an independent advisor

Credit: Crown Copyright/Open Government Licence v3.0

The anti-corruption watchdog Acoba has admonished a former Home Office director general for failing to seek advice on a job that has seen him return to the department as a consultant.

Details of the breach by Glyn Williams, former DG for migration and borders, were revealed in correspondence released by the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments last week. During his time in government, he worked on several major immigration and borders reform projects, and led major technology-centric programmes, including overseeing the delivery of the EU Settlement Scheme.

Acoba chair Eric Pickles has written to Nadhim Zahawi, chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, to report Williams for an “unambiguous” breach of the rules. The former senior civil servant had not sought Acoba’s advice in relation to the work “which resulted in him working indirectly for the Home Office again.”

Anti-lobbying rules mean former ministers and senior civil servants must not take up, or announce, a new appointment or job within two years of leaving office before seeking Acoba’s advice.

Williams retired last December, becoming a senior consultant on immigration and borders for Fortinus Global a few months later. The firm, which is run by Tony Smith, an ex-Border Force director general, claims to offer public- and private-sector clients support in four key areas: the use of technology and digital platforms at border crossings; strategic border management; immigration and customs compliance; and related training needs.

The company recently won a consultancy contract to work to provide “a managed service” to the Home Office, including support and on immigration systems and related policy. 

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In his letter, Lord Pickles said: “This lack of awareness of the rules by a senior civil servant is a cause for concern. It is now a matter for you to decide what appropriate action to take.”

The breach was brought to Acoba’s attention by Home Office permanent secretary Matthew Rycroft last month.

In a letter to Lord Pickles, he explained that although the Home Office had reminded Williams of the rules, the official subsequently received advice from HR “indicating that this would not be needed if he returned to the civil service under an arrangement as a part-time director general.”

Rycroft said Williams “has been supplying his expertise” to the department via the Fortinus managed service contract but “should have applied to the Home Office for us to submit to Acoba before he took up this post, as he was advised by us before he retired”.

“It is unfortunate that this has happened, and I would like to apologise to the committee,” the departmental leader said.

Rycroft added that despite the breach arising from “a misunderstanding of the advice Glyn received, we nevertheless appreciate the seriousness of the situation”.

Replying to Rycroft’s letter, Pickles noted that Fortinus Global started working for the Home Office after Williams joined. 

“Any suspicion around this timing is exactly the kind of risk to the integrity of government that the rules are designed to protect,” he said.

In a statement to Acoba, Williams denied any impropriety. 

“I did not think I was required to seek approval through Acoba and that was why I did not do so.”

Having since read the rules, he accepted he “should have sought approval” but insisted he “did not deliberately seek to avoid compliance”.

Pickles has expressed concern a number of times in recent months over breaches of the anti-lobbying rules. In May, after reporting an ex-official who had worked on the Grenfell Inquiry to the Cabinet Office for failing to contact Acoba about his plans to lead Greater Manchester Integrated Care Service, he called lack of awareness of the rules “a cause for concern”.

“Although breaches of the rules remain a very small proportion of the casework Acoba sees, they are most often caused by a lack of clarity on the various processes and obligations that exist,” he told Zahawi’s predecessor, Steve Barclay, in a letter about the breach.

“I therefore remain concerned that not all former ministers and crown servants are sufficiently clear on the various standards of behaviour, rules and legislation that are incumbent on them,” he added.

The committee recently penned an open letter to ministers preparing to leave government in prime minister Liz Truss’s reshuffle reminding them of the rules, “to ensure all ministers understand the process and know what is expected of them”.

Additional material from PublicTechnology staff

Sam Trendall

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