Senior military officers and Ministry of Defence officials have taken up more than 3,500 jobs in arms companies over the past 16 years, according to figures that reveal the extent of the “revolving door” between the public and private sector.
The data, compiled by the Guardian from freedom of information requests, shows how the industry swoops on former officials and military personnel once they have left service, with hundreds of senior officers being given jobs every year.
The figures for 2011-12 show 231 jobs went to former officials and military personnel – a rise from the previous year’s total of 101. Another 93 have been approved since January. In total 3,572 jobs have been approved since 1996.
The disclosure comes in the aftermath of a “jobs for generals” scandal that led to the resignation of the president of the Royal British Legion, Lieutenant General Sir John Kiszely, who was embarrassed in a newspaper lobbying sting.
Kiszely was one of several former senior members of the military caught on film by Sunday Times reporters who were pretending to seek lobbyists for a South Korean defence company.
Boasting about his connections, Kiszely described the annual Festival of Remembrance as a “tremendous networking opportunity” and said he was spending Christmas with the armed forces minister, Andrew Robothan.
In his resignation letter, Kiszely admitted he had made “exaggerated and foolish claims”, but denied any impropriety.
Admiral Trevor Soar, second in command of the Royal Navy until the spring, has also quit his role as an advisor at the large UK defence and engineering company Babcock. The firm said Kiszely had been sacked from his role at the company, too.
The MoD began its own inquiry on Monday into the access that former members of the military have to serving officials. This may lead to a tightening of current restrictions and blanket bans on certain individuals approaching senior staff in the ministry.
Figures obtained by the Guardian relate to the number of jobs approved under business appointment rules for armed forces personnel and MoD civilians. They show that there has been a regular flow into the private sector every year since records began in 1996. There has never been fewer than 101 and the highest is 360.
Bernard Jenkin, the Conservative MP who chairs a Commons committee that oversees the rules governing the appointment of former military personnel and ministers, told the Guardian it was time the government legislated in this area to bring proper transparency and accountability.
Jenkin said the advisory committee on business appointments (Acoba), which scrutinises when the top brass can accept new jobs, was toothless because it could be ignored.
“The Acoba is merely advisory and it will not do,” he said. “There is no way that the present arrangements provide the reassurance to the public or protection to anyone that might be crossing from the public sector to the private sector.”
The furore began at the weekend with the Sunday Times investigation in which six former members of the military were approached for help by journalists purporting to be working for a defence firm.
Those fooled by the sting included Lord Dannatt, a former head of the army; Lieutenant General Richard Applegate, a former head of procurement at the MoD; and Lord Stirrup, a former chief of the defence staff.
All of those involved intimated they knew people at the top of the MoD who could help the firm. Some bragged about their connections to ministers and the MoD’s most senior civil servants.
Though they all denied wrongdoing, at least two of them appear to have been in breach of Acoba guidelines. These state that senior officers have to wait up to two years before they can lobby on behalf of defence companies. Soar, who retired this March, suggested he could ignore those guidelines if he was described as a consultant. Applegate, who has only just past the two years’ “purdah”, claimed he had spent the past 18 months working on behalf of an Israeli arms firm and had successfully lobbied the MoD to release £500m for a helicopter safety programme.
But even if the men have defied the Acoba rules, there is no way of sanctioning them or the firms with whom they might have been working.
Jenkin said the public administration select committee (Pasc) had flagged this problem to the government in July and had recommended adopting a much tougher regime.
“We recommended that there should be a statutory appointment of a conflict of interest and ethics commissioner, with statutory rules so that it is very clear what people can and cannot do. Acoba does not have any powers. This episode shows that and I hope the government will now look favourably on our proposals. They have yet to respond to them.”
A Cabinet Office spokesman said: “This is an important issue as events over the weekend have shown. We are currently considering issues in relation to business appointment rules as part of our response to the Pasc report published in July.”
Jim Murphy, the shadow defence secretary, said the system needed to be changed. “It is ludicrous that rules can be broken without sanction and so we must see systematic change to restore confidence and standards.
“Military expertise should not be lost after retirement, but contact on defence contracts must be transparent and within established guidelines. We must get to the bottom of what happened. We must also establish the facts of ministerial involvement and awareness in these cases.”
Labour has tabled a series of questions on the issue, including a demand for details of meetings between former members of the military and serving civil servants, senior officers and ministers.
Babcock announced that Kiszely and Soar had quit the company. They had both been recruited as advisers – the former to offer insight into the potential future needs of the military, the latter on exports. “The statements made by Sir John Kiszely, in the course of his attempt to win a job elsewhere, do not reflect his role for us,” the company said.
“The facts are that he was not recruited to perform any lobbying role; he has never been asked to perform such a role and indeed, irrespective of his comments, he has never performed any such role for this company. We have a very clear code of conduct for all of our employees, and these inaccurate comments clearly fall foul of our code. For this reason, Sir John will not continue to work with Babcock. Sir Trevor Soar has expressed regret over the embarrassment caused by his interview, and his resignation has been accepted by the company.”
The seven-strong Acoba committee, which includes the former chief of the defence staff Lord Walker, publishes an annual report that gives details of the people seeking jobs in the private sector, and advises how long they must wait before accepting them. Its most recent report stated it had received almost 100 requests from former ministers seeking private sector work. It also offered advice about 63 jobs to 38 MoD civil servants. Nine applicants came from former senior officers.
Among those seeking private sector jobs were Lady Taylor, formerly a junior minister at the MoD, who was taken on by the defence firm Thales; Gen Sir Timothy Granville-Chapman, vice-chief of the defence staff, also became a member of the advisory board at Thales. Vice-Admiral Tim Laurence, husband of Princess Anne, became a non-executive director of Capita Symonds, which has been used by the MoD to help save money in the running of its estates and facilities. Laurence is an ex-chief executive of the MoD’s Defence Estates, the Acoba report notes.
There is no suggestion that any of them have flouted the guidelines set out by the advisory board.