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Civil Service chief succumbs to pressure to stand down from second job

John Manzoni, the new chief executive of the Civil Service, is to stand down from his second job as a director of a major drinks company next summer, after MPs and more than 70 leading medical professionals and charities called for him to do so.

In a letter to the cabinet secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, the signatories say they believe it incompatible with UK public health goals for Manzoni to work as a non-executive director of SABMiller, the brewing group behind such brands as Grolsch and Bulmers, which opposed the introduction of minimum alcohol pricing.

As PSE previously reported, Conservative MP and chair of the Commons health committee Dr Sarah Wollaston also called for him to stand down from his second role, calling it a “complete disgrace” that the Cabinet Office had allowed him to stay in the role.

At the time a Cabinet Office spokesman said that the government was “satisfied there is no conflict of interest”.

“John Manzoni has declared his interests to the Cabinet Office,” he added. “Following his appointment as the chief executive of the civil service he is resigning his appointments except for SABMiller, which it has been agreed he can retain, and he is establishing a blind trust.”

The announcement he will stand down has come today, but yesterday the department released a different statement saying it has been agreed Manzoni can keep the corporate job “to do in his own time on an unpaid basis”. The department declined to say when the decision had been taken that Manzoni would not take any payment for the SABMiller job.

But after the signatories to the original letter kept up the pressure it appears the Cabinet Office has changed its stance again.

After yesterday’s statement was released, Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, an adviser on alcohol to the Royal College of Physicians and a past president, told the FT: “The fact that [Mr Manzoni] is not being paid suggests that it’s charity work and I am not sure why someone would be doing charity work with SABMiller. I can only interpret it as a sign that he intends to have a long-term relationship with the company … this wouldn’t alleviate my concern that he wouldn’t be unbiased on issues relating to alcohol policy.”

The Alcohol Health Alliance released a statement today welcoming Manzoni’s decision to stand down, but questioning why it will take until next summer for him to do so.

The statement said: “The Alcohol Health Alliance UK (AHA) welcomes the decision by John Manzoni to stand down as a non-executive director to SAB Miller next summer. The AHA believes that this development is a positive step towards addressing public concerns over potential conflicts of interest. However the AHA strongly believes that it is in the public interest that he stands down as soon as is possible rather than delaying until next summer.

“The initial decision by the Cabinet Office to allow John Manzoni to continue in his position as a non-Executive Director to SAB Miller alongside his role as CEO of the Civil Service has highlighted a major issue regarding the appointment of industry personnel to senior civil service positions. It has also demonstrated the need for robust procedures relating to conflicts of interest.”

Dr Wollaston said: “I am pleased to hear that John Manzoni will be stepping down as a director of SABMiller as this is clearly a conflict of interest with his role leading the civil service. I would however, ask him to do so with immediate effect as there are likely to be discussions around the effect of policy in the run up to the general election. I also feel, for the same reasons, that he should not retain any shares in 'big alcohol', even if they are held in a blind trust.”

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