George Eustice cleared to set up environmental consultancy

Former DEFRA secretary George Eustice has been given the green light to set up an environmental consultancy, provided he seeks advice from the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACOBA) before accepting any commission.

George Eustice, former DEFRA secretary. Image: UK Parliament

Under the government’s Business Appointments Rules for Former Ministers, former ministers must seek advice from the ACOBA before taking on private sector work relating to areas they previously held sway over in government.

It has emerged that Eustice, who was DEFRA secretary from February 2020 to September 2022 under Boris Johnson’s government, requested approval from the ACOBA to establish an independent consultancy “seeking to work with clients in the agri-tech, agri-food, waste management and water sectors”.

In a letter sent from the committee to Eustice on 21 August, the ACOBA approved the request, while laying out attached conditions. The fact the committee has published the letter means that Eustice has accepted the terms.

“As [DEFRA secretary], you will have had oversight of a wide range of information, policy, and made decisions that may provide an unfair advantage to a broad range of organisations,” the ACOBA said in the letter. “The committee considered there is a significant risk that your clients, particularly those in the agri-food industry, water and waste sectors, may be considered to gain from your privileged insight and decisions made in office that are unavailable to its competitors.”

However, the committee concluded that overall, it would not be “improper” for Eustice to set up his consultancy. This, it said, is firstly due to the fact that Eustice has been out of office for almost 11 months, during which time there have been multiple changes in government, including two new prime ministers. Secondly, ACOBA said that the matters he was involved with “have largely been altered” by his successors, “or relate to decisions and policies that are already in the public domain”.

The committee added that it considered it “significant” that Eustice had a prior career in the agri-food industry, water and waste sectors before his time in government. 

However, while Eustice has been given approval to set up his consultancy, the committee was clear that he cannot actually take on any clients without seeking further advice. 

The letter said: “The risks under the [Business Appointments Rules for Former Ministers] will be most significant where you seek to provide advice on matters where you made decisions or had access to sensitive information in office - these applications will need close scrutiny. The committee will want to carefully consider the suitability of this work, and may advise that a further waiting period is required. Where conditions and a suitable waiting period cannot appropriately mitigate the risks, the committee may advise the work is unsuitable to take up within the two years the rules apply. The committee will consider such risks on a case by case basis.”

In an annex to the letter are details about the kind of work Eustice intends to undertake. These include plans to offer “time limited, project advice to private equity shareholders with investments or potential investments in the sectors of agri-tech, agrifood, waste management and water sectors”.

It also includes offering strategic advice “on policy affecting environmental sectors such as agri-food, waste, water and biodiversity” and advice to clients on “developing their business model and on implementing or complying with regulatory frameworks”.

The committee notes that Eustice said he would “explicitly not take on work which involves making direct representations on behalf of clients in respect of DEFRA ministers, officials, agencies or DEFRA’s arms-length bodies.