Former chancellor Philip Hammond has been rebuked by a sleaze watchdog for “unwise” lobbying of Treasury officials on behalf of a bank offering Covid software.
The Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba) said that Lord Hammond’s decision to email the second most senior civil servant at his former department was “not acceptable” and broke rules on lobbying by former ministers.
Acoba polices the business activities of former ministers to ensure they do not exploit inside information and contacts after they have left office, but has no power to issue sanctions or fines for breaches.
The watchdog launched an inquiry into Lord Hammond’s email to the Treasury’s second permanent secretary, Charles Roxburgh, in July last year in relation to OakNorth bank, on whose advisory board he sits.
The Tory peer told Mr Roxburgh that the firm was “very keen to ensure that the right people” at the Treasury saw a presentation about “Covid stress-testing” software it had developed for assessing corporate borrowers.
In a letter to Acoba chair Lord Pickles, Hammond said he did not believe that the message broke lobbying rules because OakNorth was offering the government access to the software free of charge as its contribution to the national coronavirus effort.
However, it its finding today, Acoba told Lord Hammond it was “an unwise step to contact senior officials at the Treasury on OakNorth’s behalf”.
It added: “In this case, as the former Chancellor paid by OakNorth, your contact with HM Treasury raises a reasonable concern that direct engagement with the second permanent secretary was only made available to OakNorth as a direct result of your time as Chancellor.
“The committee considers the use of your contacts in government in this way was not consistent with the intention of the rules and was not acceptable.
“The material consideration is the privileged access you obtained for OakNorth, not the commercial value of the proposition.”