Revolving door is unhealthy

Radio 4’s latest File on 4 programme posed the question: Is there a conflict of interest when public servants take private sector jobs?

The so-called ‘revolving door’, which the programme examines, is part of the lobbying toolbox. How does a company wanting to secure government contracts get its foot in the door of the government department? One of the best ways is to employ an insider, someone with the political contacts in the department and detailed knowledge of how the system works.

While some have argued that this leads to better understanding between commerce and government, the pitfalls are enormous. “Crony capitalism ” is how David Cameron referred to it in a speech on lobbying last year: “We all know how it works. The lunches, the hospitality, the quiet word in your ear, the ex-ministers and ex-advisors for hire, helping big business find the right way to get its way.”

When a Committee of MPs conducted an inquiry into lobbying a couple of years ago, it concluded on the issue of the revolving door: “With the rules as loosely and variously interpreted as they are,  former Ministers in particular appear to be able to use with impunity the  contacts  they  built  up  as  public  servants  to  further a private interest”.  

This appears to be particularly the case with former health ministers. Here's a list:

  • Tony Newton, now Lord Newton of Braintree, a former Tory health minister in the ‘80s, now a paid adviser to Oasis Healthcare
  • Ex-secretary of state for health in the early 90s, Virginia Bottomley is a director of the health insurance, private hospital and care group, BUPA
  • Baroness Julia Cumberlege, ex health minister in the 90s, now runs her own a consultancy advising among others, the pharmaceutical industry
  • John Bowis, another former Tory health minister, now chair of the Health Advisory Board of pharma giant GSK, and an advisor to lobby firm Hanover
  • Tom Sackville, ex-Tory health minister from the ‘90s, today heads up the International Federation of Health Plans, which represents one hundred private health insurance companies. Also chair of the pro-market think tank, 2020health
  • Former Labour health secretary Alan Milburn became a paid advisor to a private equity firm Bridgepoint Capital, heavily involved in financing private healthcare firms (Bridgepoint’s subsidiary won a multi-million pound NHS contract six months after he joined)
  • Melanie Johnson, ex-public health minister became an advisor to Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry
  • Patricia Hewitt, another former Labour health secretary took a couple of paid jobs in private healthcare, one with Alliance Boots, another with an investment firm Cinven, which specialises in buy-outs in the healthcare industry
  • Lord Warner, former Labour health minister, took up a position with Apax Partners one of the leading private equity investors in healthcare
  • Lord Darzi, another Labour ex-health minister, now an advisor to giant GE Healthcare.

The revolving door is about sharp-elbowed companies buying influence and advantage. Meanwhile the public is asked to step aside and watch as the NHS is divided up among them.