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Wales’ top civil servant under investigation by Cabinet Office in ‘conflict of interest’ row

16 Feb 2024 7 minute read
Dr Andrew Goodall

Martin Shipton

A UK Cabinet Office inquiry is under way into a complaint that Wales’ most senior civil servant failed to carry out a proper investigation into concerns about a potential conflict of interest involving a lobbyist who is also a member of the Welsh Government body which advises on major infrastructure schemes.

Dr Andrew Goodall rejected the suggestion there was anything wrong with Stephen Brooks sitting as a commissioner on the National Infrastructure Commission for Wales (NICW), which advises the government on renewable energy projects. while also being a senior adviser for Cardiff lobbying firm Deryn Consulting, which represents clients in the renewable energy industry.

Deryn’s most recent list of clients, as declared to the professional body PRCA, includes renewable energy developers RWE and Wind2. A recent former client is Statkraft, another renewable energy firm.

In September 2023 Mr Brooks, together with the chair of NICW, Dr David Clubb, gave evidence to the Senedd’s Climate Change, Environment, and Infrastructure Committee at a meeting about the Infrastructure (Wales) Bill, which is intended to introduce a simplified process for granting consent to major infrastructure projects in Wales.

It was an opportunity to influence lawmakers. In several instances as he gave evidence, Mr Brooks urged that the interests of developers should be taken into account. In total, Mr Brooks mentioned developers during his evidence four times. Before giving evidence, he did not declare to the committee that he worked as a lobbyist for Deryn.

Discussion

In October 2023 Mr Brooks chaired an NICW event on renewables. In a post on X, formerly Twitter, he wrote: “Thanks to everyone who came to the NICW event on renewables. Really enjoyed chairing a rich discussion touching on skills, planning, tech, public engagement, community ownership, finance and more.”

Responding to concerns expressed by information rights activist James Roberts, Dr Goodall wrote to him stating: “You were concerned there was a potential conflict of interest issue in both the appointment of a particular individual to NICW and the presence of that individual in NICW meetings at which policy areas in relation to clients of a particular organisation were discussed.

“I have consulted the Chair of the Commission, Dr David Clubb, the Commission secretariat and the Welsh Government’s Public Bodies Unit in preparing this response.

“The appointment of six new Commissioners and a Deputy Chair were approved in August 2022. The appointment process had commenced with a public advert, inviting applications, issued in March of that year. There were a number of applications, all of which provided details of employment history and roles with a number of organisations in areas where NICW had an interest.

“The Deputy Minister for Climate Change [Lee Waters] had responsibility for making appointments to NICW. The First Minister was not involved in the process.

“The Deputy Minister for Climate Change approved the job specification for the role, and it was against the criteria set out in the specification that applicants for the post were assessed. There were several appointable candidates whom the Deputy Minister discussed with the Chair of NICW before formal offers of appointment were made to the successful applicants.”

Sustrans

Mr Brooks is a former director in Wales of the sustainable transport charity Sustrans, as is Mr Waters.

Dr Goodall’s letter continued: “The Chair of the Commission is acutely aware of the requirement that members of the Commission should have knowledge of relevant infrastructure sectors, and this can give rise to potential conflicts.

The scope for conflicts is therefore managed very carefully by the Chair, as is the requirement Commissioners should remove themselves from discussions or decisions where they have a financial interest, or where their interest might suggest a danger of bias.

“In addition, officials from the NICW secretariat ensure the register of members’ interests is kept up to date and any new interests are recorded at every meeting. The meeting notes and register of interests have now been updated on the NICW and Welsh Government websites.

“I hope this response deals with your concerns regarding the National Infrastructure Commission for Wales.”

Conflict of interest

In a response to Dr Goodall, Mr Roberts wrote: “The crux of the issue lies in the potential conflict of interest arising from Mr Stephen Brooks’ dual roles with NICW and Deryn Consulting.

There remains a need for clarity on whether Mr Brooks disclosed his consultancy role and his clients at Deryn to the Deputy Minister for Climate Change prior to his appointment; the specific measures taken to manage Mr. Brooks’ involvement in discussions and decisions that may benefit his clients at Deryn; the actual involvement of Mr. Brooks in NICW meetings discussing policy areas directly impacting his clients and whether he recused himself from such discussions.

“The updated register of interests and meeting notes, while necessary, do not provide retrospective transparency regarding these past interactions, nor do they assure that the potential conflict of interest has been effectively managed.

“Therefore, I implore you to conduct a thorough investigation into these specific concerns. The integrity of the NICW and the public trust in its processes are at stake. An investigation that addresses these concerns explicitly is imperative to uphold the standards expected of public institutions.”

Mr Brooks told us: “During the appointment process, and following my appointment, I have declared my interests. I am pleased that the Welsh Government has confirmed this to be the case.”

Register of interest

A Welsh Government spokesperson would only say: “All members of the National Infrastructure Commission for Wales are required to update the register of interests as and when changes occur. These are recorded and published on the Welsh Government and the National Infrastructure Commission for Wales websites.”

Dissatisfied with the response he received from Dr Goodall, Mr Roberts escalated his concerns to the Cabinet Office in Whitehall, making a formal complaint about SDr Goodall’s handling of the matter.

Writing to a Cabinet Office official, Mr Roberts stated: “The basis of my complaint is twofold.

“1. Failure to Adequately Investigate Conflict of Interest Concerns:

* Despite detailed correspondences outlining potential conflicts of interest involving Mr Stephen Brooks and his dual roles with the National Infrastructure Commission for Wales (NICW) and Deryn Consulting, Dr Goodall’s responses have been dismissive and have not addressed the specific issues raised. This suggests a lack of thoroughness and transparency in investigating the matter.

* The Civil Service Code mandates integrity, honesty, objectivity, and impartiality. By not adequately investigating a significant conflict of interest and failing to address the specific issues raised in my correspondences, Dr Goodall’s actions do not align with these principles.

2. Breach of Public Appointment Processes:

* Recent information obtained through a Freedom of Information request reveals that Mr Brooks was appointed to his commissioner role at the NICW without a formal interview. This is a clear breach of established procedures for public appointments.

* The lack of a formal interview and due diligence process in Mr Brooks’ appointment raises serious questions about the rigour and transparency of the appointment process overseen by Dr Goodall. It suggests that necessary steps to ensure the suitability and impartiality of appointees may have been overlooked.

* This new information further supports my concern that Dr Goodall’s reluctance to investigate the conflict of interest may stem from concerns over procedural shortcomings at the time of Mr Brooks’ appointment.

“The combination of these issues points to a potential breach of the Civil Service Code by Dr Goodall. It is crucial for the integrity of public service that such matters are taken seriously and addressed appropriately. I am prepared to provide further details as required for the investigation of this complaint. The integrity of public bodies and the trust placed in them by the public are of paramount importance.

“Thank you for your attention to this significant matter. I look forward to the initiation of an appropriate and thorough investigation into these concerns.”

The Cabinet Office has confirmed that an investigation is under way.

The Welsh Government declined to comment.


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Tom
Tom
1 month ago

Why are people being appointed to well paid positions in Wales without being interviewed? A small country such as ours needs to go out of our way to appear as transparent and fair as possible. The same applies with the lack of declaration of interest whilst providing evidence. If there could be any suggestion of a conflict, whether correct or not, a declaration should be made.

Leigh Richards
Leigh Richards
1 month ago

Staggering, not to say inexplicable, that a quarter of a century since the Senedd’s creation that it still doesn’t keep a register of professional lobbyists. The Westminster and Scottish Parliaments do – absolutely no excuse for Wales’ Parliament to do likewise

Linda Jones
Linda Jones
1 month ago
Reply to  Leigh Richards

There must be a reason why Wales parliament doesn’t want the transparency a register of professional lobbyists would provide. Corruption?

Richard
Richard
1 month ago
Reply to  Linda Jones

Post Senedd employment maybe 🤔

Richard Davies
Richard Davies
1 month ago

There is nowhere near enough transparency regarding lobbying. Simply relying on a register of (member’s) interest isn’t good enough, it is open to corruption. It needs major reform!

Caradoc
Caradoc
1 month ago

What’s the fuss? This is the old Welsh way. Ask any true native. Jobs for the boys, Dai bach.

Richard E
Richard E
1 month ago
Reply to  Caradoc

And now girls apparently 👀

Erisian
Erisian
1 month ago

The dark side of networking. Without effective wards, self/group interest will inevitably produce outcomes that act against the interests of the majority.

Jeff
Jeff
1 month ago

Hang on, No10 departments leading this? The is the department’s that let Boris off? The ones that are quiet over the way the Sunaks make money? How BP has a say I energy structuring? Far right think tanks constantly have No10’s ear, Tufton street is such a broad brush now, there are many there that try to control us from unelected positions, the IEA credited with Truss tanking the UK. Then the Bruges Group, Tax Payers alliance. Then we have helicopter forms dropping loot into Sunak’s fighting fund and who is Akhil Tripathi, he dropped £38.5K to Rishi, some sort… Read more »

Grievous
Grievous
1 month ago
Reply to  Jeff

Fair comment ,some people on here seem oblivious to the UK Governments wrong doings but when Welsh Government does things wrong all up in arms one wonders if these people have some kind of agenda?that said the Welsh Government should know better And should follow correct procedure .

Last edited 1 month ago by Grievous
Arfon Jones
Arfon Jones
1 month ago

Well done James Roberts on your perseverance.
We’ve had a bonfire of the Quangos once but it seems they have been reintroduced as Public Appointments.
How many Public Appointments are there?

Captain
Captain
1 month ago

Is this the same James Roberts formerly of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, a ConservativeHome author and a current UK Gov spad (properly interviewed no doubt) according to LinkedIn? Scrutiny is good but this smells of mischievous politicking.

Richard
Richard
1 month ago

Deryn eto !! 😎

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