13 October 2014

The State Services code of conduct includes a standard obliging people working in agencies to “…avoid any activities , work or non-work, that may harm the reputation of our organisation or of the State Services…”   SSC guidance on the meaning of the standard refers to potential conflicts that arise from secondary employment or from other business interests. “…We must have clear authorisation from our organisation before we begin any secondary or additional work.  Additional employment may create a conflict if it involves:

  • work in a business that has or is developing a contractual relationship with any government organisation
  • an organisation that receives public funding
  • a business that lobbies Ministers, or Members of Parliament, or government organisations
  • a business that is regulated by the organisation we work for
  • demands that may undermine our ability to fulfil our duties
  • a business that has an interest in the privileged, private or confidential information that we can access….”

Potential conflicts like these are such that it would be unusual for a New Zealand departmental Chief Executive to hold a concurrent role as a director or employee of a large public company.

The UK Civil Service code has no direct equivalent provision. And that may be why the announcement of the appointment of the Chief Executive of the Civil Service – who takes up this newly created position today – referred to the three secondary employment roles he has maintained throughout the eight months since he joined the Civil Service.  These are as a non executive director of an international brewery company, the chairman of an energy exploration company and an adviser to another energy company.

He will continue as a director (remuneration £100,000)  with the brewer, SABMiller (the name is derived from South African Brewery, its origin, and Millers, the largest of its beer brands in the United States). It operates in 80 countries.

Public concern is reflected in support for an Opposition MP’s criticism that “…We should never have big business people running the Civil Service. We want them on advising committees and we want their expertise available as much as possible, but not running the Civil Service – it compromises neutrality…”

The Cabinet Office is said to be satisfied there is no conflict of interest. More than 230 remarks about an article in the Guardian suggest that many others have a different perspective.