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Tory Lord cutting civil service jobs ‘used official trip to tout for private work’

Exclusive: Francis Maude allegedly touted his consultancy firm during ‘fact-finding’ mission

Seth Thévoz close-up
Seth Thévoz
18 August 2022, 4.39pm
Francis Maude meeting Saudi King Salman in 2018

Saudi Press Agency

The Tory Lord heading up sweeping job cuts at the civil service has been accused of using his parliamentary role for personal gain after it was revealed he had touted Saudi royalty for private business while on the clock.

Francis Maude was announced last month as the leader of a major review into the civil service that could reportedly result in the loss of 91,000 jobs.

The allegations relate to a 2018 trip that was meant to be a “fact finding” mission to “gain a deeper understanding of the strategic links between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the UK”.

“I vaguely remember him saying: ‘I'm sorry, I've got to bail out, because I've got a business appointment,’” said the MP Keith Simpson, who was also on the trip, although he added that he believed Maude’s behaviour was “legitimate”.

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It came just four months after Maude set up a consultancy firm, Francis Maude Associates Partners (FMAP) Ltd, which works with “governments outside the UK to help them save money, improve services and build lasting capability”.

Maude is not accused of breaking any rules by doing private work during the visit.

But Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner told openDemocracy: “Using overseas parliamentary junkets to tout for business with Saudi royalty just adds to the impression that top Tories are again opening doors for their cronies to line their own pockets.”

She added that “a cloud hangs over Lord Maude” after he was embroiled in a series of scandals.

The former Conservative Party chair served as an MP and minister until 2015, before joining the House of Lords.

The junket included a tour of Riyadh and the Gulf coast. Maude only stayed for three days, but those who were present for the whole five-day trip each accrued £7,802 worth of expenses, including flights, transport, food and accommodation.

Maude’s register of interests from the time confirms he attended the first section of the trip, on 11 to 13 February 2018. On the second day, Maude personally met with King Salman at Riyadh’s Al-Yamamah Palace.

A spokesperson for FMAP Ltd claimed that Maude’s attendance on the trip was “private” and came at no cost to taxpayers.

Yet the Tory peer’s register of interests describes it as “a parliamentary fact-finding visit”. And Simpson, the former Conservative MP who accompanied Maude on the trip, told openDemocracy that Maude had “tended to lead and chair us when meeting the various Saudi groups we were dealing with”.

Maude’s entry in the Lords register of interests says that the trip had its “costs met by” a Conservative group, although every other politician on the trip declared it as having been paid for by the Saudi foreign ministry.

The visit came at the end of a busy month for Maude: he also registered visits to Dubai on 15 January 2018, funded by the state-run Mohammed bin Rashid School of Government; and to Moscow on 17 January, with “expenses met by Ranepa”, the state-funded Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration.

Using overseas parliamentary junkets to tout for business with Saudi royalty just adds to the impression that top Tories are again opening doors for their cronies to line their own pockets

Angela Rayner

Parliamentarians on the trip also included Conservative MPs Mark Garnier, James Heappey, Stephen Metcalfe and Andrew Mitchell, and the Tory peer Lord Northbrook.

Maude’s company FMAP Ltd has a number of former Tory ministers as senior advisers, including Nicholas Soames, Nick Boles and Nick Hurd, as well as the former chair of the Office of Budget Responsibility, Robert Chote. Past senior advisers have included the former chancellor Philip Hammond.

The firm boasts of work “with the federal governments in Canada and Australia, the government of NSW [New South Wales] and a number of governments in Asia and the Middle East”. Reports say the governments of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kazakhstan are also clients.

Two months ago, Maude and Nick Hurd flew to Paraguay to meet local officials – where, Maude said, the FMAP team “look[s] forward to supporting the crucial next stages in Paraguay’s journey of reform”.

On its website, the company says: “Our focus is on the implementation of fiscal, economic and public sector reform.”

Daniel Beizsley, from the campaign group Spotlight on Corruption, said: “Any blurring of the line between parliamentary business and Lords’ personal interests [needs to] come under proper scrutiny.

“This is especially sensitive when Lords are establishing commercial relationships with foreign heads of state that could be open to exploitation.

“It's been nearly two years since the Intelligence and Security Committee 'Russia report' recommended more transparency and better enforcement of the House of Lords' Code of Conduct, yet we're still waiting for real reform.”

Civil service review

Although FMAP Ltd claims it “does not undertake work for the UK government or seek to do so,” senior figures at the company have worked at the heart of government in a personal capacity, prompting concerns about a “revolving door”.

This includes Maude’s former business partner at the company, the Conservative peer Simone Finn, who has been a non-executive board member for the Cabinet Office since 2020. In February 2021, she was appointed as Boris Johnson’s deputy chief of staff, at the heart of Number 10.

Finn stepped down as a director of FMAP Ltd when she got the job last year. A spokesperson for the company said she is not involved with the firm “in any way”.

Maude’s review of the civil service could see 91,000 jobs cut, and non-civil servants heading up departments. He has already cut 90,000 civil service jobs, as a Cabinet Office minister under David Cameron a decade ago.

Last year, he conducted a Cabinet Office review into spending controls, which sparked questions from Labour about potential conflicts of interest. A Cabinet Office minister declined to answer a question on what tender processes had been followed, pointing to “corporate memory and experience.”

A spokesperson for FMAP Ltd told openDemocracy: “Any work undertaken by Lord Maude or FMAP Limited’s employees for the UK government has been undertaken without remuneration on a pro bono basis.”

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