News

Civil service chief has waived pay from drinks industry, but doctors still object to links

BMJ 2014; 349 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.g6583 (Published 31 October 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g6583
  1. Matthew Limb
  1. 1London

UK medical experts have voiced fears for the integrity of public health policy after the appointment of John Manzoni as new chief executive of the civil service, despite his connections to the brewing group SABMiller, which has opposed public health measures such as a minimum price for a unit of alcohol.

The Cabinet Office, which has been criticised over Manzoni’s role as non-executive director of the brewers, announced on Thursday 30 October that he would be waiving his £100 000 (€130 000; $160 000) salary for the job and that his work for the company would end in the summer of 2015.

But Katherine Brown, director of the Institute of Alcohol Studies, said his work there should stop immediately and that his position remained “at odds with public health goals whether it is paid or not.” She told The BMJ, “He is still obliged to safeguard the strategy and performance of the company for the next nine months or so, during which time he can’t be seen as truly independent of business interests.”

Manzoni, a former BP executive, was appointed in October to drive efficiency across Whitehall and “get a better deal for taxpayers from commercial decisions” in a new post working alongside Jeremy Heywood, the Cabinet secretary and head of the civil service.

Brown said, “This whole episode has highlighted flaws in the appointments process for industry leaders taking up senior positions in the civil service. This process must be reviewed in order to better protect public policy from conflicts of interest.”

In a new statement, issued on 30 October, Alcohol Health Alliance UK, which represents 42 organisations, including the Institute of Alcohol Studies, that work to reduce the damage caused by alcohol misuse, urged that Manzoni quit the industry role as soon as is possible “in the public interest.” Brown helped to organise an earlier open letter from 90 experts to Heywood, published on 29 October, that raised “deep concerns” about Manzoni’s alcohol industry “interests.”1 The signatories include Ian Gilmore, chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance and special adviser on alcohol to the Royal College of Physicians, Klim McPherson, chairman of the UK Health Forum, John Middleton, vice president of the UK Faculty of Public Health, Simon Wessely, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, and Jackie Ballard, chief executive of Alcohol Concern.

The letter said that SABMiller had conducted a “well-resourced and wide-ranging lobbying campaign against UK government policies aimed at tackling alcohol harm that potentially threatens the interests of the drinks industry, such as minimum unit pricing.” It continued, “Given that alcohol policy is such a high profile and contested issue within government, 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.”

The letter also highlighted SABMiller’s commercial ties with the tobacco company Philip Morris through the shareholder Altria Group (formerly known as Philip Morris Companies Inc), which is the parent company of Philip Morris USA.

It warned of a “serious threat to the perceived neutrality and integrity of the UK civil service” in policy making. It called for full disclosure of the details of Manzoni’s appointment, “with a view to an early review of the Cabinet Office appointments committee advice.”

It is unclear when it was decided that Manzoni would waive the £100 000 non-executive director salary.

The Guardian newspaper reported two weeks ago that the Cabinet Office had cleared the role, because the salary was held as shareholdings in a blind trust, and declared that there was no conflict of interest.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said in a statement on Thursday 30 October, “John Manzoni has declared his interests to Cabinet Office officials. Following his appointment as the chief executive of the civil service he has resigned his appointments except for SABMiller, which he is doing in his own time on an unpaid basis and which comes to an end next summer.”

Notes

Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g6583

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