BEIS leaks details of business leaders in email offering advice on honours nominations

Written by Beckie Smith on 16 March 2021 in News

Email addresses exposed by BCC mix-up

Credit: Computer Science Manchester/CC BY 2.0 - image has been cropped

A data leak has revealed that bosses at Test and Trace contractor Serco and other private sector firms that have won government contracts during the pandemic are among hundreds of business leaders contacted by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and offered advice on nominating staff for New Year Honours.

Rupert Soames, whose company has been involved in running NHS Test and Trace – which MPs yesterday recently said could not demonstrate it had slowed the spread of coronavirus, despite costing £37bn – was among more than 500 business leaders who were contacted, a data leak has revealed.

Top executives at several large government contractors, including consulting firms McKinsey, Deloitte, PwC, Bain and Company and tech provider Amazon, were all on the list.

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The email – which shared recipients’ email addresses with each other by using the CC function instead of BCC – asked company bosses to consider who to nominate for the 2022 honours and told them about the process. The Cabinet Office takes nominations each year. It included a document setting out tips on how to write a successful nomination, and invited execs to join online forums on Zoom designed to “demystify” the honours process. 

BEIS permanent secretary Sarah Munby wrote in a separate email: “I would like to draw on your knowledge and expertise to identify deserving individuals and ensure that their contribution is rewarded and celebrated in this very public way.”

She asked bosses to put forward nominations “on behalf of your organisation as well as for any other individuals you think worthy of recognition”.

The memos encouraged companies to focus in particular on nominations that were regionally diverse and those for underrepresented groups such as disabled people and BAME people.

Also on the list, which was first reported by the Sun, were vaccine manufacturers Astrazeneca and Pfizer; companies with defence contracts such as BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce; and tech giants Facebook, Google and Tesla.

While the list included some businesses that have attracted criticism for their business practices – including Amazon and Deliveroo, whose employee conditions and tax affairs have come under scrutiny – it excluded some big-name companies. Boohoo, which has been slammed for conditions at its clothing factories, did not feature; nor did Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley.

Tobacco and gambling companies were also not contacted.

Commenting on the leak, shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said ministers “should be focusing on fixing Test and Trace not offering up rewards for failure”.

A BEIS spokesperson said: “These emails do not indicate that any specific individual is being actively considered for new year’s honours and any nominations received still need to go through a comprehensive, independent consideration process. BEIS takes its information and data handling responsibilities very seriously under the UK GDPR. We have contacted the parties concerned to apologise for the error and taken steps to mitigate any further incidents.”


About the author

Beckie Smith is acting deputy editor of PublicTechnology sister publication Civil Service World, where a version of this story first appeared. She tweets as @Beckie__Smith.

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