George Osborne slapped on wrist by watchdog for Evening Standard role
George Osborne has been criticised for agreeing to become editor of the Evening Standard before getting approval from the Whitehall watchdog governing ex-ministers’ conflicts of interests.
The Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba) said it was a “matter of regret” that Mr Osborne had informed it of his intention to take the job just four days before it was publicly announced – well before it was able to give its recommendation.
Mr Osborne had his first day in charge of the newspaper today – a job he had originally intended to combine with his duties as MP for Tatton.
In light of Theresa May’s decision to call an early general election, however, the former chancellor said he would not seek re-election and he will formally cease to be a Member of Parliament at midnight tonight.
Acoba – which monitors the so-called ‘revolving door’ between former ministers, special advisers and senior civil servants going into the private sector – published its advice to Mr Osborne today.
The watchdog rebukes him for accepting the job before it had the chance to make a judgement.
It said: “You submitted your application on 13 March. The committee considers it to be a matter of regret that your appointment as editor was announced by the Evening Standard on 17 March, just days later and before the committee had an opportunity to make the necessary enquiries, consider your application, and provide its advice.
“The committee is very concerned that despite the press statement noting you were still seeking the committee’s advice, you subsequently signed a contract of employment with the Evening Standard on 20 March – without having received the committee’s advice.
“It was not appropriate for you to do so. You did not disclose any intention to do so to the Committee when you originally submitted your application, nor have you provided an explanation for this during the course of the Committee’s consideration. This is not in compliance with the Business Appointment Rules, which state that former ministers ‘must abide by the advice of the Committee’ – advice which you were yet to receive.”
Acoba does not have the power to block former ministers’ jobs and has been branded “toothless” by a committee of MPs in the past.
Its report today said that there was “no evidence” that Mr Osborne had made decisions in office with a view to becoming editor of the Evening Standard.
However, it called on Mr Osborne to amend his contract to include a clause that stopped him from drawing on any privileged information from his time in Government.
And it also recommended that he should have no contact with the Government regarding press regulation, and said he should not personally lobby ministers “or make use, directly or indirectly”, of his contacts in government to benefit the Standard or influence policy.