Ministers are facing demands to re-examine 85 oversight jobs across Whitehall amid questions over Conservative government appointments to the health department.
Concerns were raised after it emerged that Matt Hancock had appointed Gina Coladangelo, whom he was pictured kissing in his office in May, as a non-executive director at the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) last year. She was paid £15,000 for 15 days’ work a year in a role that included scrutinising his performance as a minister.
Non-executive directors (Neds) exist to “challenge” the government and provide independent scrutiny while bringing private-sector experience to departmental boards. In some cases, ministers have been accused of abusing their positions to bring in Tory donors, peers and MPs to sit in important governance positions.
The latest figures show there are 85 Neds across Whitehall, including eight in the Home Office and seven in HMRC. The Cabinet Office, the Department for Education and the Department for Work and Pensions have six each.
Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader and the shadow chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, called for a shake-up of the system. “Non-executive directors of Whitehall departments are supposed to hold ministers to account,” she said. “The behaviour of the Conservatives has proved beyond all doubt that the rules and regulations that are supposed to prevent conflicts of interest and close the revolving door between Whitehall and business are unfit for purpose and need a radical overhaul.”
Coladangelo, a lobbyist, first met Hancock at Oxford University in the 1990s. The pair’s families were close – their children and partners knew each other’s and dined together. She was given the non-executive directorship at DHSC last September. Other than Coladangelo, there were three other Neds on the board of the DHSC in April.
Kate Lampard, the lead Ned on the department’s board, is also a senior associate at the consultancy firm Verita. In May this year Verita was awarded a contract by the DHSC worth £35,000 to assist Public Health England in the transition to becoming the UK Health Security Agency.
Until November 2020, when he joined the board of DHSC, Dough Gurr was the country manager for Amazon UK. In May 2020 there was criticism when the Land Registry, whose board Gurr sat on, awarded a cloud contract to Amazon.
Gerry Murphy, a third DHSC Ned, was appointed as a non-executive board member in 2014 and chairs its audit and risk committee. He served as a partner at Deloitte between 2002 and 2013. Since March 2020, the DHSC has awarded contracts worth £336m to Deloitte LLP.
There is no suggestion that Lampard, Gurr or Murphy were involved in the new contracts or that there was a failure to declare any interests. Their past roles in the private sector were in the public domain. The DHSC was asked about the appointments, but did not comment.
An analysis by Open Democracy found that Coladangelo is one of at least 16 individuals with close ties to the Conservative party to have been appointed as Neds in Whitehall.
They include the former Conservative vice-chairman Dominic Johnson, who was appointed to the Department for International Trade in December, and Ben Goldsmith, the party donor and brother of the Tory peer and former cabinet minister Zac Goldsmith, who has been appointed to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
Michael Gove has appointed former Vote Leave colleagues to the Cabinet Office. They include the former minister and Tory peer John Nash; Henry de Zoete, who was the campaign’s digital director and a former special adviser to Gove; and Gisela Stuart, the former Labour MP who chaired the Vote Leave campaign.
Following the 2010 election, the use of Neds proliferated under David Cameron, beginning with the appointment of a lead non-executive for government, the former BP chief executive John Browne.
This drive formed part of the Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude’s wider civil service plan to introduce more senior people from the private sector.
A report by the Committee on Standards in Public Life this month called for appointments of Neds to be regulated. “There is an increasing trend amongst ministers to appoint supporters or political allies as Neds,” the report said. “This both undermines the ability of Neds to scrutinise the work of their departments and has a knock-on effect on the appointments process elsewhere, as Neds are often used on the assessment panels for other public and senior civil service appointments. The appointment process for Neds should be regulated.”
The Department of Health and Social Care said: “Non-executive directors bring expertise and experience from all sectors to provide advice and support to government departments.
“All government contracts undergo proper due diligence and we take these checks extremely seriously. Non-executive directors are not involved in the awarding of any contracts.”
Neds past and present
The government has recruited 85 non-executive directors to work across 19 government departments, according to the latest figures. Former and current Neds include:
Nick Timothy The Aston Villa-supporting former Downing Street adviser to Theresa May is now a Ned in the Department for Education. A former grammar school alumnus and former director of the New Schools Network, he is known to be an advocate of selective education.
Gisela Stuart The former Labour MP and chair of the Vote Leave campaign during the EU referendum campaign is the lead non-executive board member for the Cabinet Office. She is one of a number of Vote Leave campaigners appointed to Ned positions since Boris Johnson became prime minister.
Ben Goldsmith A Tory donor and brother of the minister and failed London mayoral candidate Zac Goldsmith, he was handed the role of non-executive director at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs last summer.
Toby Young In early January 2018, the rightwing columnist was briefly appointed as a non-executive director on the board of the Office for Students. He resigned within a few days after Twitter posts described as misogynistic and homophobic were uncovered.
Source: The Guardain