These appear to be the two most relevant provisions of the Civil Service Management Code (Annotations added on 25 June 2005).

4.3.8 Civil servants may freely invest in shareholdings and other securities unless the nature of their work is such as to require constraints on this. [1] They must not be involved in taking any decision [2] which could affect the value of their private investments [3], or the value of those on which they give advice to others; or use information acquired in the course of their work to advance their private financial interests or those of others. [4]

4.3.9 Civil servants must therefore declare to their department or agency any business interests (including directorships) or holdings of shares or other securities which they or members of their immediate family (spouse, including partner where relevant, and children) hold, to the extent which they are aware of them, [5] which they would [6] be able to further as a result of their official position.[7] They must comply with any subsequent instructions from their department or agency regarding the retention, disposal or management of such interests.

1. The good intent is evident, but its effectiveness seems doubtful. This requirement seems essentially meaningless, partly because it fails to indicate what kinds of work demand constraint, also because it does not distinguish between the responsibilities of civil servants in leadership positions and others.

The lack of any reference to ‘ethical investment’ is conspicuous: would a senior regulator responsible for safeguarding public health be above reproach for investing, for example, in tobacco companies, alcohol producers and distributors, polluting industries, arms manufacturers?

2. In the regulatory sector, lack of decision-making and initiative may be quite as important as taking decisions, but the Code overlooks this.

The ‘must not’ requirement carries little meaning when provisions for verification and enforcement are explicitly lacking: complete reliance is placed on the integrity of those subject to the code. The Code signals that there will be trouble if someone is found out, but it simultaneously suggests that, given discretion, the chances of this are remote. This gives ample scope for abuse, but the level of abuse is never investigated.

3. The emphasis on direct personal gain seems na´ve. In this case, senior agency officials routinely get ‘insider’ and ‘price sensitive’ information, and endlessly make decisions (or don’t) that affect not only the fortunes of individual pharmaceutical companies, but which may also influence the level of the stockmarket as a whole. Moreover, such is the sensitivity and influence of the pharmaceutical industry, decision-making of the MHRA provides arguably the keenest single indicator of the "investment climate" in the UK as a whole.

The notion that the pharmaceutical industry operates independently of other investment sectors is clearly unsustainable: the industry employs around 73,000 people and generates another 250,000 jobs in related industries.

4. But how is a senior regulator with an enthusiastic interest in the stockmarket, expected to segregate in his/her mind information gained from privileged and other sources? The opportunities for fudge and denial seem endless, especially within a family context. If public trust is the objective, this requirement seems empty too.

5. This is not far off making ignorance something of a defence. Moreover, this provision as good as exonerates anyone sufficiently na´ve to deny that, ‘what’s good for the pharmaceutical industry is generally good for the stockmarket as a whole’. Given the discretion allowed, the onus in this provision amounts to an invitation to civil servants either to risk self-incrimination, or to declare themselves to be above suspicion or reproach. The Code would do better to require/advise disclosure unless no doubts could arise, as well as making a clear distinction between the imperatives for those who set and follow examples.

6. This is the one piece of specific guidance that does call into question the judgement of the MHRA chairman – albeit on a rather legalistic basic. The word, ‘would’ signals the potential for abuse, rather any suspicions of it. Use of the word, ‘could’, would remove that ambiguity

7. This provision again proposes that only action, not inaction, might enhance personal gain. And again, it fails to distinguish between the responsibilities of those in leadership positions, and the obligations of employees who might be expected to follow their example. One size does not fit all: leaders are meant to set examples that others should follow.

RETURN TO MAIN TEXT

 

HOME