Lord Evans of Weardale exposé in The Sunday Times – and a job down

  1. On 30 December 2018, Andrew Gilligan, senior correspondent, reported in The Sunday Times newspaper my Lord Evans of Weardale exposé (see 18 December 2018 post).
  2. Mr Gilligan’s report (“Watchdog on conflicts of interest has six other jobs”), page 2 lead, is here: STS_20181230_null_null_01_2.
  3. And following the story in this morning’s paper… In entirely unrelated news, Sky News later today revealed that Lord Evans, who is chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, is to give up one of his six other posts – as non-executive director of HSBC Holdings PLC: https://news.sky.com/story/former-mi5-chief-lord-evans-to-step-down-from-hsbc-board-11594861.

James Wharton failed to inform ACOBA of change in role at political lobbyist – and why it matters

  1. Former government minister James Wharton failed to inform the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACOBA) of a change in his role at a political lobbyist – despite the committee’s standard request to do so. In April 2018, Mr Wharton‘s role at the firm switched from “strategic adviser” to “chairman of public affairs”. Yet there is conflicting evidence from the ex-government minister whether his responsibilities there altered or not. The lack of clarity on this point is important because the exact details of his new role would determine whether ACOBA would have required Mr Wharton to make a new application for advice from the committee – before assuming the new role.
  2. Mr Wharton, who lost his seat as MP for Stockton South in the June 2017 UK general election, previously held two ministerial roles. In May 2015, he was appointed as the first northern powerhouse minister. The Teesside MP then became international development minister, when Theresa May replaced David Cameron as prime minister after the June 2016 EU referendum.
  3. Former ministers and senior crown servants must apply for advice from ACOBA on the suitability of proposed new business posts. The committee makes its advice letters publicly available on its website, if an applicant takes up an appointment. In August 2017, it wrote to Mr Wharton about his then proposed role at political lobbyist Hume Brophy as strategic adviser. There ACOBA said: “Please also inform us if you propose to extend or otherwise change the nature of your role as, depending on the circumstances, it may be necessary for you to make a fresh application.” This is a standard request from the committee.
  4. On 4 April 2018, meanwhile, Hume Brophy announced on Twitter appointment of the former government minister as chairman of public affairs (screen shot in Figure 1). Its tweet also contained a link to a PRWeek report of Mr Wharton’s new role.

    Figure 1. Hume Brophy tweets appointment of James Wharton as chairman of public affairs (4 April 2018)

  5. Unable to see a second advice letter to Mr Wharton on the ACOBA website about a proposed new role at Hume Brophy, I asked the ACOBA secretariat in an email whether he had informed the committee of a change in his role at the firm. Mr Wharton “did not approach ACOBA about a change of role,” said the secretariat by reply.
  6. My query prompted the committee secretariat to contact him for comment. It told me in an email that the ex-government minister “has confirmed that whilst his job title at Hume Brophy has changed and he is currently doing more hours, the nature and responsibilities of his role have not changed.” (The ACOBA secretariat repeated in a later email that this was Mr Wharton’s position.)
  7. If that is what he said, Hume Brophy appears to have interchangeable and therefore meaningless job titles – at least as far as Mr Wharton is concerned. Which is worrying.
  8. Equally worrying, though, is what the former government minister stated on the firm’s website upon appointment as chairman of public affairs: “…I am delighted to take on these enhanced responsibilities and integrate further into the team” (screen shot in Figure 2). This obviously contradicts what the ACOBA secretariat (twice) reported Mr Wharton had told it about the responsibilities of his new role – these “have not changed”. So which is it?

    Figure 2. Hume Brophy announces on its website appointment of James Wharton as chairman of public affairs (image captured on 27 December 2018)

  9. Mr Wharton didn’t respond to requests for comment.
  10. ADDENDUM: Hume Brophy is acting for military charity Care after Combat, as I revealed on 20 October 2018. Registered as a charity on 25 November 2014, Care after Combat was founded by comedian Jim Davidson, who is chief executive. My investigation recently led regulator the Charity Commission to open a “regulatory compliance case” into the charity (see 12 December 2018 post).

Lord Evans’ avoidable conflict of interest

  1. Lord Evans of Weardale, who joined the lords as a crossbencher on 3 December 2014, has several other paid roles. On 25 October 2018, the former director general of the Security Service, MI5, added another: chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life. The day before, meanwhile, Lord Evans gave a talk at an event on cyber security – an event sponsored by one of the tech companies for which he’s a paid adviser (since 2013). These circumstances are problematic, I believe, for two reasons.

    Figure 1. Cyber security event at the London Stock Exchange Group on 24 October 2018 where Lord Evans spoke

  2. First, it’s unclear, at the very least, in what capacity Lord Evans spoke at the event, which took place at the London Stock Exchange Group (screen shot in Figure 1). (https://www.lseg.com/events/issuer-services-cyber-security-masterclass-24-october-2018) Darktrace Ltd was a sponsor (screen shot in Figure 2), and he’s a paid adviser to the firm, according to the register of lords’ interests. Was Lord Evans there as a member of the lords – or as an employee of Darktrace? Here he had an actual, potential, or perceived conflict of interest due to his other job with the firm. Worse, it’s an avoidable conflict of interest.

    Figure 2. Lord Evans is a paid adviser to Darktrace Ltd, a sponsor of the cyber security event

  3. Second, Lord Evans isn’t required to declare his role at the event on the register of lords’ interests, because he wasn’t paid for it. (The former head of MI5 confirmed via email he didn’t receive payment for speaking that day. Meanwhile, the register shows he‘s been paid for several “speaking engagements”.) Yet Darktrace, a firm for which Lord Evans works, was one of the sponsors. Thus it’s against the spirit of the register, I believe, for his role at the event not to be disclosed there.
  4. In response to my first point, Lord Evans said in an email: “As you will understand I speak at a variety of events in a variety of circumstances. I have never, so far as I recall, been invited to speak principally on the basis of my membership of the House of Lords.” While on the second point, he wrote: “I do not believe that there are any remunerated interests in respect of the London Stock Exchange event that I have failed to declare.”
  5. I then challenged his answer to my first point, saying his answer makes my point. There’s an unacceptable lack of clarity around the capacity in which Lord Evans spoke at the event. What is clear, though, is he’s a member of the lords, who also has other paid roles, including as adviser to Darktrace. So here, as I say, Lord Evans had an avoidable conflict of interest. I also called his attention to the fact that his answer to my second point fails to address what I said about the spirit of the register.
  6. In a further email, Lord Evans said: “I do not think that there are conflicts or undeclared interests here that are relevant to my role as a member of the House of Lords and I do not, therefore, have anything to add to my previous reply.”
  7. Note that Lord Evans didn’t address directly the central issue of the exact capacity in which he spoke at the event, despite my putting it to him twice. The lack of clarity around capacity is an inevitable consequence of Lord Evans multiple paid roles. The arising avoidable conflict of interest is, by definition, unnecessary. As such, then, it can and surely should be avoided.
  8. Lord Evans didn’t refer to “managing” the conflict of interest, either. Nonetheless, it’s much more satisfactory to avoid it (the conflict of interest) in the first place. Moreover, managing” conflict of interests – whatever it actually means – is usually far from straightforward.
  9. There are strong similarities between this case and Jake Berry MP’s previous avoidable conflict of interest involving a law firm, which I exclusively revealed on 15 January 2017. Back then, Mr Berry didn’t respond to requests for comment, though.
  10. The Committee on Standards in Public Life “advises the prime minister on ethical standards across the whole of public life in England”, says its website. As Private Eye magazine observed upon his appointment as chair of the eight-member committee (Eye 1481), Lord Evans several commercial roles risk calling into question his suitability for the post. Here I show that the concerns arent merely theoretical.
  11. There’s no suggestion that Lord Evans has done anything illegal.

Shameless Mirror columnist Heather Mills continues to plug health food chain, without disclosure of interest

  1. On 13 December 2018, Heather Mills turned her attention to homeopathy in her latest “Live healthy with Heather” column for the Daily Mirror newspaper. (Daily Mirror 13 Dec 2018) There she again plugged Holland & Barrett, without disclosure of interest.
  2. Ms Mills had promoted the health food chain in the same underhand way in her first column, as I revealed on 16 November 2018. Private Eye magazine reported my Heather Mills exposé (see 29 November 2018 and 1 December 2018 posts).

“Mum-of-three” plugs Cambridge Weight Plan in the Mirror, without disclosure of interest

  1. On 12 December 2018, the Daily Mirror newspaper reported the case of “mum-of-three” Fiona Ednie, who “dropped six dress sizes” – thanks, apparently, to the Cambridge Weight Plan. (Daily Mirror 12 Dec 2018)
  2. Under the headline My life was saved by a Christmas jumper”, the Mirror describes the “mum” as a “charity boss, from Glasgow”.
  3. Nevertheless the newspaper omitted to mention a relevant fact: Ms Ednie works for Cambridge Weight Plan. She’s one of its so-called consultants – individuals who help local people wanting to lose weight with the Cambridge Weight Plan. Here’s Ms Ednie‘s consultant profile on the weight loss organisation‘s website: https://www.cambridgeweightplan.com/FionaE.
  4. Ms Ednie isn’t independent of Cambridge Weight Plan. Therefore, the Mirror misled its readers by failing to disclose that she works for the firm.

Charity Commission opens regulatory compliance case into Care after Combat following my investigation

  1. I recently asked the Charity Commission for a comment on the concerns I raised about military charity Care after Combat (see 20 October 2018 post).
  2. Its spokesperson said in a written statement on 11 December 2018: “We are aware of concerns about Care after Combat, including around governance issues and political independence. We recently opened a regulatory compliance case in order to assess whether the trustees are actively fulfilling their legal duties towards the charity. We expect the trustees to respond meaningfully to our concerns as such issues have the potential to seriously undermine public confidence in charity. Charities can and should be able to speak out on matters affecting their beneficiaries, but they must protect and nurture public trust by maintaining their political neutrality at all times.”
  3. She concluded: “As this is an active case we are unable to comment further at this time.”

Amir Khan’s charity exposé in The Times

  1. On 7 December 2018, Martyn Ziegler, chief sports reporter, reported in The Times newspaper my Amir Khan‘s charity exposé (see 13 November 2018 post).
  2. Mr Ziegler‘s report (“Khan‘s charity money trouble”) began on the back page: The Times 7 Dec 2018 p78; and finished inside: The Times 7 Dec 2018 p73.
  3. His report is also available on the newspaper’s website, behind a paywall: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/sport/amir-khans-charity-money-trouble-m85hfrtpj.