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— Liz Truss’ former chief of staff gets back into the consultancy game.
— Britain takes a tumble in the global corruption rankings. We unpack the findings.
— A new campaign urges Westminster to keep up the fight on global hunger.
FULLBROOK’S BACK: Mark Fullbrook, Liz Truss’ former chief of staff at No. 10 Downing Street, has restarted his dormant consultancy after putting it on ice during his (brief) time in government.
Out of the garden: In a message on LinkedIn, Fullbrook said Fullbrook Strategies — which attracted controversy following his appointment, via a series of Sunday Times stories querying whether sufficient safeguards were in place to manage potential conflicts of interest — is resuming business “after my co-founders and I completed our ‘gardening leave’.” And Fullbrook made clear the firm is looking “for new challenges.” The agency’s website has been updated to say that Fullbrook — a lobbying veteran and a former head of campaigning for the Tories — “returned to FSL in January 2023, three months after Ms Truss left office.”
ACOBA’S take: The revolving door watchdog has cleared Fullbrook’s return to the agency — with some caveats. He’ll face six months of restrictions, during which time he “must take all necessary steps to ensure that no person working with or for” him lobbies the U.K. government, ACOBA said.
Influence regulars will note: That’s a lot shorter than the usual two-year period of restrictions imposed on ex-government types. It’s being curtailed because “he spent a total of 49 days in government office in Autumn 2022,” ACOBA said. Fullbrook has told ACOBA he “will not conduct any lobbying whilst he is subject to the Committee’s advice.”
CORRUPTION ALARM BELLS: Get the bunting out! Britain’s racked up another big global win: its lowest-ever score in a key corruption watchlist. Let Influence walk you through the findings as we all sing the national anthem in unison.
What we’re talking about: Transparency International’s global Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), which dropped this week. Britain has taken a seven-place tumble in the global rankings, sliding from 11th last year to 18th this time around.
How that compares: To be clear, there’s a long way to fall yet. The U.K. still ranks above France, Austria and the United States. But it’s behind countries including Uruguay, Estonia, and Luxembourg. And the fall in rankings puts Britain right back around where it was at the height of the BAE Systems scandal, which triggered Gordon Brown’s government to bring in the Bribery Act.
Drilling into the data: Some caveats before we go deeper. The NGO’s index measures how corrupt a country’s public sector is perceived to be. It’s not a measure of actual levels of corruption and doesn’t track private sector graft. But it pulls together different data points, including surveys of business executives and country experts, as well as info from the Economist Intelligence Unit and the World Economic Forum. It then works out a single “country score” out of 100, which gives us a helpful snapshot of how countries are seen by potential investors and corruption watchdogs. The U.K.’s score this time around is 73, a five-point drop on the previous year.
Great Danes: Denmark is perceived as the least-corrupt country, according to the index, with a goody two-shoes rating of 90.
Should anyone care? Absolutely, says Robert Barrington, anti-corruption professor at the University of Sussex, and a former boss of Transparency International who’s previously been tapped up to advise the Cabinet Office on anti-graft measures. “Governments around the world watch it carefully,” Barrington says of the CPI, “because it is known to affect reputation and investment.” He describes the exercise as “the single-most watched index of corruption around the world,” running for three decades and “widely used by business, governments, academics and media” to get a sense of where a country’s at.
What’s driving the drop? Transparency International has a few suggestions. It points to a string of sleaze scandals during the period the study was carried out (between November 2019 and October 2022), as well as the furore over perceived priority access to COVID-19 PPE contracts, which it says “showcased how easily political access could be bought by private interests” while some public officials were left to “regulate their own conduct.”
Eek: The handing of key public sector jobs to people “with political connections” may also have contributed, the NGO warns, while “lobbying scandals in Parliament and revelations of the extent of potential ministerial misconduct have further highlighted the woeful inadequacy of the systems that are supposed to protect integrity and standards in public life.” It’s kept Influence busy, at least.
Reasons to be cheerful? Transparency International says a new code of conduct for MPs and Rishi Sunak’s decision to actually appoint a new ethics adviser “even if after some delay – are steps in the right direction.” But it’s got a fair few heavier recommendations “to stop the slide,” of which more in a bit.
The Johnson factor: Professor Barrington says Westminster cannot ignore the role Boris Johnson played in all this either. He points out that, in the British system of government, “all roads lead to the prime minister, not just in terms of ethical tone, but, actually, ethical decisions.” The PM decides when to launch a ministerial ethics inquiry, for example, they make key public appointments, and decide who gets to stay in the Cabinet if wrongdoing is suspected. Johnson famously prevaricated on appointing an ethics adviser when the last one dramatically quit, and shied away from a host of reforms demanded by MPs and watchdogs like the Committee on Standards in Public Life (CSPL) that would tighten, for example, Westminster’s notoriously lax lobbying rules.
Legacy issues: Barrington reckons Sunak, trying to regroup after his first Cabinet sacking this week, is “to some extent dealing with the legacy and the fallout of decisions taken in Boris Johnson era,” and that the host of scandals that followed the then-prime minister around could have a corrosive effect on politics if steps aren’t taken to draw a proper line under the era. “The danger is that when these things take hold, and standards get lower, the next generation of politicians perpetuate the lowest standards, rather than going back to the highest standards,” he warns.
Cautionary tales: There can be a bit of tendency in the U.K. to think corruption is something that happens elsewhere. But, warns Barrington, other countries with previously robust systems in place have let things slide, and quickly. “I think a very good example is Hungary,” he says. “In the run-up to EU accession, things improved a lot on the corruption side. And then Viktor Orban took over, and it declined very quickly.” (You can chart Hungary’s descent here, courtesy of the CPI.)
And so: Barrington says the true measure of an effective system to safeguard against corruption is whether a future PM “with malign intent [who] wanted to use the system to enrich themselves and put their cronies into power” could be prevented from doing so. Right now, he warns, Britain puts too much faith on the person at the top doing the right thing.
So what’s to be done? Transparency International has three main recommendations. It wants the government to back the Public Service (Integrity and Ethics) Bill currently making its way through the House of Lords, which bundles up those CSPL recommendations in a bid to boost standards in public life. It’s urging the government to finally appoint a new anti-corruption champion after the last one, Tory John Penrose, quit in anger. That new czar needs to lead a proper refresh of the government’s now overdue anti-corruption strategy, they say, and Barrington suggests now might be the time for a wider rethink of the entire role in general to give the champion more teeth. The NGO is also pressing for “full and candid” disclosure of details on the COVID-19 “VIP lane” — with time limits and tougher scrutiny mechanisms for the use of emergency contracting powers in the future.
The government line on all that: Pressed on the tumble in the rankings at PMQs this week, Sunak said there is in fact “widespread recognition and support for the U.K.’s approach to transparency and in tackling corruption,” and pointed to a separate report by the Financial Action Task Force which, slightly tangentially to all this, welcomed U.K. measures to clamp down on money laundering and terrorist financing. The Cabinet Office did not respond to a series of questions from Influence on how it hopes to address the slide.
APPG SCRUTINY CONTINUES: Still, at least we can always turn to the world of all-party parliamentary groups for some transparent and well-regulated fun, right?! In the wake of successive eyebrow-raising stories about APPGs, the the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) is backing calls for reform — while urging parliamentary authorities not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Force for good: In an open letter to the speakers of both the Commons and the Lords, CIPR chief Alastair McCapra argues that APPGs — which are often financially supported by public affairs agencies — remain “generally a force for good.” Many, he says, work to improve policymaking while acting as “conduit between parliamentarians and the sector or issue the APPG is seeking to explore.”
But but but: McCapra says the CIPR’s own members have “raised concerns about the inconsistent way APPGs operate,” including those “being run improperly for commercial reasons.” And he adds: “Their concerns relate not only to the damage this does to the policy-making process, but also the reputational risk to our political system and the public affairs industry; organizations who work in a proper and professional manner with APPGs do not want their reputation tarnished by those who don’t.” Check out the full letter — including a pitch for a code of conduct governing public affairs types involved in APPGs — here.
GB NEWS NEWS: Revolving door watchdog ACOBA cleared former Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg to host his new GB News show, so long as he doesn’t lobby for the broadcaster or “offer any unfair insight as a result of … access to information and potential influence in government.” His fellow newly appointed GB News host Nadine Dorries meanwhile got a rap on the knuckles for “failing to seek and await advice before the role was announced or taken up.” The ball’s now in the Cabinet Office’s court on that one, although it hasn’t previously admonished ex-ministers for speedily signing up for TV gigs.
TECH NATION SHUTTERED: Tech Nation, set up under the coalition government to help get tech start-ups off the ground, is closing its doors “as a direct result” of ministers deciding to yank its funding and shift the £12 million grant to banking giant Barclays instead. The network will close for good on March 31, it confirmed in a statement, highlighting its past work in helping to get big names like Monzo Bank, Revolut and Depop off the ground. A spokesperson for the digital department said: “Our decision to make the Digital Growth Grant competitive brings the funding into line with the majority of government grants. Barclays Eagle Labs was successful because their application represented the best value for taxpayers’ money, will benefit the most startups and scale-ups over the next two years, and was scored highest by an independent panel.”
GONGS AWAY: Industry bible PRWeek unveiled the shortlist for its annual Corporate, City and Public Affairs Awards, with Grayling, Woburn Partners, H/Advisers Cicero, WA Comms, Cavendish Advocacy, and Lodestone Communications all getting nods. Grab the full list and check out the hotly-tipped campaigns here.
CONTRACTS WATCH: The Ministry of Justice tapped up consultancy giant KPMG to review the governance of the prisons service, new transparency documents show. The two-month, £98,000 deal runs until March.
HUNGRY FOR CHANGE: In times of economic strife at home, it’s tempting for politics to turn its gaze inward. But a fledgling campaign is urging Westminster not to ignore a mounting global hunger crisis — and two veterans of the Coalition years are hoping a hard-headed case for action will give the major parties a plan they can get behind.
Coming attractions: United Against Malnutrition and Hunger formally launches in a few weeks’ time, but Influence got itself a sneak preview this week. It’ll be chaired by two prominent members of the House of Lords — former senior No. 10 aide and ex-Development Minister Liz Sugg, and Nick Clegg’s former Chief of Staff Jonathan Oates, who will act as CEO. It’s backed by funding from U.S. philanthropic outfit the Eleanor Crook Foundation, with agency Purpose Union helping to get the initiative off the ground.
Why now? Oates tells us the scale of the world’s hunger and malnutrition crisis is “growing daily, particularly in the Horn of Africa.” Right now, Somalia is facing its longest drought on record, and the former Clegg aide says the worsening toll of climate change, COVID-19’s disruption of food supply systems, and spiraling prices as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, have all combined to put basic food staples entirely “out of the reach” of many.
More bleak context: The United Nations World Food Programme has warned that a record 349 million people across 79 countries now face acute food insecurity, up from 287 million in 2021. More than 900,000 people across the world are fighting famine-like conditions — 10 times more than was the case five years ago.
And yet: “This has coincided with a time when the U.K. has cut its contribution to global nutrition by — according to estimates from Save the Children — as much as 80 percent,” says Oates. “That couldn’t really have come at a worse time.”
Bigger than the aid budget: Oates is clear that the U.K.’s cut to its aid budget — which shows no sign of being reversed any time soon — has been deeply unhelpful. Over the long-term, the campaign will keep pressing for a restoration of that funding from whoever is in government. But he’s also trying to stay clear-eyed about the political environment the campaign lands in, with a Treasury piling pressure on departments across Whitehall to keep costs down, and no party talking about easing the fiscal straitjacket anytime soon. The campaign, he says, “of course … wants funding restored, but we understand these are difficult times and it’s going to be hard for politicians of whatever party to get to that point.”
And so: Expect the team to make the case for more targeted, cost-effective interventions which the U.K. could be making right now. “It is a non-partisan issue,” Oates says of tackling hunger, pointing to years of previous work under Labour, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems which the campaign is hoping to remind the parties of. “We are going to be about talking about things that are politically doable, really working with people in the sector to put proposals to government for a practical, investable case on nutrition — understanding the constraints that politicians are in,” he promises.
Reasons to be cheerful: While the retreat on aid spending has been roundly condemned by NGOs, Oates says there are still “some positive signs” in the U.K.’s approach to combating hunger and malnutrition. For one, Andrew Mitchell — the former international development secretary who earned plaudits for dramatically shifting his party’s thinking on aid — is back in government, and remains “very committed to this agenda,” Oates says. He’s also optimistic about where the public mood is at on hunger. “People understand what that is at a very basic level.”
Oates (not) so simple: Oates’ own political awakening came in the mid-80s, when a series of shocking reports by the BBC’s Michael Buerk on the Ethiopian famine prompted the then-15-year-old to steal his dad’s credit card, board a flight to Addis Ababa, and try to offer his services to a host of aid agencies. “It had simply not occurred to me that the aid agencies’ demand for schoolboys like me was likely to be non-existent — and my momentous stupidity had left me with no alternative plan,” he has written of that extraordinary trip. (The whole piece is well worth reading in full.)
Compassion in hard times: While that ill-fated journey did not achieve the change he’d been after, Oates kept the issue close to his heart, and returned to Ethiopia as an aide to Clegg in the 2010s after the government had passed its 0.7 percent aid target. He still believes the wake-up call of the 1980s has lessons for today’s politicians. That time is remembered nowadays, he says, for “the outpouring of British individual determination to act, the donations, and the pressure that came on a government which, at the time, was pretty constrained economically.” He adds: “We were dealing with some some pretty big problems at home. But people did respond, and I think they understood.”
Safety first: Beyond a pretty unquestionable moral case, the campaign will be trying to argue that action on hunger and malnutrition is also in the U.K.’s own interests. Failing to get a grip on hunger, he warns, risks undermining all of the U.K.’s other development goals, because human societies “cannot develop effectively when large parts of their populations are hungry from birth. Their development is stunted, literally stunted, from lack of nutrition at a critical time.” That in turn can have huge security and geopolitical implications, he points out, warning: “A hungry world cannot be a stable and safe world.”
Not the usual suspects: As well as voices from the hunger frontline, United Against Malnutrition and Hunger is promising to knock heads together in “business, private finance, research institutions, and from the military and diplomatic communities to really make these arguments in fresh ways,” Oates promises. With the right will, he argues, Britain can start “coordinating, galvanizing and really thinking about long-term solutions” on hunger again, even if money remains tight. And he counsels against giving up just because the global picture looks bleak right now. “It is really easy in this world to sort of despair because nothing’s changed,” he says. “But a lot has changed. Between 1990 and 2015, extreme hunger was halved in the world. That is a major success – but we are in danger of going backwards.”
Kwasi Kwarteng’s former SpAd at BEIS and the Treasury, Celia McSwaine, joined Crestview Strategy as a vice president. Harry Burns, former head of elections and campaign support for Labour and then Change UK, is also joining the agency at the same level.
Think tank the Council on Geostrategy appointed Gabriel Elefteriu as deputy director, focused on defense and space policy. He comes on board after a spell as director of research and strategy at Policy Exchange.
FTI Consulting hired Nathan Hambrook-Skinner as senior director in its strategic comms arm, joining from Lloyd’s of London
Joe Cawley has been promoted to director of Grayling Engage, an offshoot of agency Grayling. He’s previously worked for Upfront Communications and Four.
Isaac Oliver, formerly of agency Teneo and some place called “POLITICO Europe”, joined Labour as a business relations manager.
Paul Addison started as director for public affairs at infrastructure firm Arup. He’s held senior external affairs roles for Yorkshire Building Society and Siemens.
Journalist Fiona O’Brien will lead Reporters Without Borders’ U.K. Bureau, the NGO announced.
Mario Creatura, former digital adviser to Theresa May in No. 10, has joined MHP Group as a director. He makes the leap from Dentons.
Shearwater Global promoted Chris Adams to director. Adams has worked for the Lib Dems, Engine MHP and Four Communications.
Portland promoted Lucy Rodrick to senior consultant.
Promotions galore at H/Advisers Cicero. Tom Harrison — a former Bank of England analyst — has been promoted to account director. Joshua Mackenzie-Lawrie is moving on up to senior account executive at the same agency. James Van Der Graaf moves on up to senior account manager, while Sophie Duley is promoted to account manager.
Raft of promotions too at Hanbury: Denni Faraj moves from executive to account manager; George Shackleford shifts from associate director to director; Libby Gilbert is promoted to account manager; and Vedika Almal joins as an executive after interning with the agency.
Labour in Communications beefed up its leadership team, appointing Alice Pleasant of Lime as lead on its policy working groups (more on that and a chance to take part here) and Anna Abela of Flint Global as trade unions lead.
Jobs jobs jobs: The Charity Commission is on the lookout for a media and comms officer, plus an events and engagement officerCollege Green Group is after a senior consultant for its geopolitical practice … Campaign group National Energy Action needs a parliamentary and public affairs officer … The Green New Deal Group is after a parliamentary coordinator, based in the office of Green MP Caroline Lucas.
Events horizon: Think tank Onward hosts Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan as she sets out “her vision for digital connectivity,” on February 8.
Thanks: To my editor Jack Blanchard for sending the typos on a one-way trip to hell without a window seat. And to the POLITICO production team for checking the tickets.
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