Leaders of major digital projects to be brought into anti-corruption regime

Changes to government’s transparency measures will mean that SROs for tech and reform schemes are included – with the aim of ‘reflecting the roles most likely to be subject to lobbying’

More senior civil servants – including scores of leaders of IT and transformation projects – will soon be subject to a strengthened regime of transparency and anti-corruption measures, the government has revealed.

In a newly published response to a series of reports on lobbying rules and ethics – some of which date from three years ago – the government said that civil service contracts and terms of employment will shortly be changed to incorporate more specific details on restrictions on lobbying activity and future employment.

These “will make clear the conditions each individual will face depending on the proposed role they wish to take up after government service”.

The transparency regime is also set to be expanded to cover “all directors general, finance and commercial directors, and senior responsible owners in the Government’s Major Projects Portfolio”, the government response said.

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This latter group would include the leaders of 123 programmes that currently comprise the ICT and Government Transformation and Service Delivery categories of the GMPP.

The expansion of anti-corruption measures to include these people is an exercise in “reflecting [the] senior civil service roles most likely to be subject to lobbying approaches”, according to the government.

The changes to the current regime – which will be implemented as part of the next version of government’s transparency guidance – comes three years after the events of the Greensill lobbying scandal, which prompted the Boardman Review and reports by the Committee on Standards in Public Life, and the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee.

“For those on these new terms and conditions, the proposal will change from one where they apply to Acoba for advice to one where they consult the rules and their contract for the resulting conditions,” the government response said.

In another change to the current transparency regime, departments must now publish details of any outside employment, work or appointment held by senior officials “that has been agreed through the process for the declaration and management of outside interests”.

Lord Evans, chairman of CPLS, said it was regrettable that many of his key recommendations had not been adopted. Just 14 out of the committee’s 34 recommendations have been fully accepted by the government, and 10 have been rejected outright. He warned that while some “progress has been made”, the reforms “should not be the end of the story.”

His concerns were echoed William Wragg, chair of parliament’s Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, who said: “We are disappointed that the government has not accepted all of our recommendations, and will be considering our next steps on this important issue in due course.”

FDA union leader Dave Penman commented: “This is yet another missed opportunity to implement a system in which all parties can have confidence.”

Reforms need to be made “quickly and incrementally,” according to Acoba chairman Lord Pickles. In a letter to deputy prime minister Oliver Dowden sent last week he said: “There is clearly work to be done to bring the current system into a new reality of contractual and legally binding restrictions for both ministers and civil servants.”

Lord Pickles added: “With regard to the proposed ministerial deed and improved contractual obligations, ACOBA’s focus during consultation will be on ensuring the proposals pass the threshold of credibility. A non-statutory scheme, in order to be taken seriously, needs a meaningful sanctions regime including a financial penalty.”

Jonathan Owen and PublicTechnology staff

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