Appointments watchdog warns former digital secretary Dorries over TV gig

Written by Tevye Markson on 31 January 2023 in News

Ex-cabinet minister failed to wait for official advice before announcing role with TalkTV, according to anti-corruption committee

Credit: Crown Copyright/Open Government Licence v3.0 

The former digital secretary Nadine Dorries has been rapped by government’s appointments watchdog over a breach of its anti-corruption rules.

Dorries, who spent a year as digital secretary before being replaced in September by Michelle Donelan, has been advised by the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments that she should have waited for their advice before taking up a job at TV channel TalkTV.

On Friday she informed the committee, which is chaired by Eric Pickles, on that she would be hosting a weekly chat show on the channel for 26 weeks. She also confirmed to the media she would start the role on 3 February.

However, anti-corruption rules state that when ministers leave government, they must seek and await the advice of Acoba on any outside role before announcing it or taking it up.

In a letter to Cabinet Office minister Oliver Dowden, sent and published on Friday, Pickles said: “This case is a further illustration of out of date the government’s rules are. I know that you personally share my view that the rules require revising and I look forward to working with you to achieve this as soon as possible.”

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But he did not recommend any sanction for the breach due to the role's "transparent nature".

“It is a matter for you to decide what appropriate action to take. However, given the transparent nature of Ms Dorrie’s role which is limited to presenting (not dealing with the commercial aspects of Talk TV business) I believe it would be disproportionate to take any further action in this case,” Pickles said.

In his letter to Dorries, Pickles explained how she could have avoided the breach.

“Acoba encourages early approaches if applicants are unsure about whether an application is required,” he said. “Had you approached Acoba in good time before agreeing to the 26-week contract or publicising the role in the media it would have allowed us to advise you appropriately in advance.”

Pickles added that previous ministers who sought advice in time before taking on media roles have generally been subjected to a standard set of conditions preventing individuals from drawing on privileged information and lobbying the UK government. This standard advice was given to former Cabinet Office minister Jacob Rees-Mogg on Friday ahead of him starting a role as a GB News presenter.

Since leaving her cabinet posting, Dorries has remained vocal about policy issues – most notably the Online Safety Bill that was introduced during her time at DCMS. She has been critical of her successor, and of any suggestion that the provisions in the bill might be amended or watered down.

Since he became chair in 2020 Pickles, along with the Committee on Standards in Public Life and others, has regularly called for business appointment rules to be beefed up to give the watchdog more teeth. The Acoba head has raised alarm bells about ministers' understanding of rules, saying last year he was “growing increasingly concerned” that not all ministers understand the Acoba rules for taking up appointments outside government, following a series of breaches.


About the author

Tevye Markson is a reporter at PublicTechnology sister publication Civil Service World, where a version of this story first appeared. He tweets as @TevyeMarkson.

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