Civil service chief under fire for keeping job at drink manufacturer

Cold Drink

John Manzoni, the new chief executive of the civil service, will waive his £100,000-a-year salary from a major drinks company as he comes under fire from more than 70 leading medical professionals and charities over his second job in the alcohol industry.

In a letter to the cabinet secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, the signatories say they believe it incompatible with UK public health goals for Manzoni to work as a non-executive director of SABMiller, the brewing group behind such brands as Grolsch and Bulmers, which opposed the introduction of minimum alcohol pricing. Corporate filings show he has taken his salary in company stock and holds shares worth more than £250,000 in the company.

When asked by the Guardian about Manzoni’s £100,000-a-year job at SABMiller at two weeks ago, the Cabinet Office released a statement saying he could keep it because the government was satisfied it was not a conflict of interest and he would establish a blind trust for his shares.

Late on Tuesday, the department released a fresh statement saying it has been agreed Manzoni can keep the corporate job “to do in his own time on an unpaid basis”. The department declined to say when the decision had been taken that Manzoni would not take any payment for the SABMiller job.

Challenging the government’s claim that there is no potential for a conflict of interest, the letter to Heywood said: “We write to you as public health professionals to express our deep concerns about the alcohol industry interests held by the newly appointed chief executive of the UK civil service, John Manzoni.

“We find it inexplicable and troubling that Mr Manzoni retains a paid position as non-executive director of one of the world’s largest brewers, SABMiller, while stepping down from two other paid positions in the energy sector. This appears to be only partial fulfilment of the Nolan principles, which require holders of public office to ‘take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest.’”

The signatories, who include Prof Sir Ian Gilmore, special adviser on alcohol to the Royal College of Physicians, Prof Klim McPherson, chairman of the UK Health Forum, Prof Sir Simon Wessely, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, and Alison Cox, of Cancer Research UK, list two potential conflicts of interest:

• Manzoni’s remuneration for his post with SABMiller – taken in the form of company shares – means he has a pecuniary interest in growth of the company’s sales and profits and therefore an interest in government policies that may affect this.

The letter says SABMiller has conducted a “well resourced and wide-reaching lobbying campaign against UK government policies aimed at tackling alcohol harm that potentially threaten the interests of the drinks industry, such as minimum unit pricing”.

It adds: “It is problematic that the chief executive of the UK civil service has such clear links to an organisation with strong vested interests on one side of such debates.”

• SABMiller has commercial ties to the tobacco industry through its shareholder Altria. The letter says the Altria group (formerly known as Philip Morris Companies Inc) is the parent company of Philip Morris USA and also a 27% economic and voting interest in SABMiller plc, with representation on its respective board.

The letter says: “We seek clarification on whether Mr Manzoni’s commercial links to the tobacco industry are considered to be compatible with the UK government’s obligations under article 5.3 of the WHO [World health Organisation] framework convention on tobacco control and its implementation guidelines, requiring that public health policies should be protected from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry.”

It goes on to argue that Manzoni’s continued interest in SABMiller “poses a serious threat to the perceived neutrality and integrity in the role of the UK civil service in policy-making” and calls for full disclosure of the details surrounding his appointment.

One of the organisers of the letter, Katherine Brown, director of the Institute of Alcohol Studies, said she found the situation an astonishing example of the revolving door between business and the government.

“In this instance they haven’t even bothered with a smokescreen,” she said. “Having the chief executive of the UK civil service receive private funds from an industry whose impact and activities are so highly contested is seriously problematic. This presents a major risk of conflict of interest and exposes public policy to interference by big business financial goals.”

Manzoni was given the £190,000-a-year position as the government’s first ever chief executive of Whitehall despite criticism of his safety record while an executive at BP following the Texas refinery explosion and his last company, Talisman, being fined over 50 alleged health and safety violations connected with fracking.

He left the world of business to become chief executive of the Major Projects Authority earlier this year, joining Lord Browne, his former boss at BP, in the Cabinet Office. Browne, who is the government’s lead non-executive director and the chairman of Britain’s leading fracking company Cuadrilla, was one of six members of the appointment panel who chose Manzoni for the job, though he did not chair it.

The full Cabinet Office statement said: “John Manzoni has declared his interests to the Cabinet Office. Following his appointment as the chief executive of the civil service he has resigned his appointments except for SABMiller which it has been agreed he can retain to do in his own time on an unpaid basis.”

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Rowena Mason and Denis Campbell, for The Guardian on Wednesday 29th October 2014 00.13 Europe/London

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