Conflict of interest

Until recently I was a school governor – I resigned out of frustration with ….. well I will leave that for another time.

As a school governor, you have to sign a piece of paper saying you have no possible conflicts of interest, but if you do have some, however remote, you have to write them down. Then, at every meeting you are asked again. Of course if you have a child who is a little s… this is not considered a conflict of interest, but we will leave that for another time also.

I always found this a bit silly for the position of school governor which is enjoyable, but let’s face it – it is as powerless a position as one can find. It makes you feel good because you ‘are giving something back to the community’, but that is about it. Don’t ask why I have done it twice now!

Having said this, I think ‘conflict of interest’ is possibly one of the most important things in corporate life and one that can be quite difficult to manage. Even more so if you are in charge of a public company there is always a risk of conflict of interest – think about your remuneration versus return to shareholders or remuneration of other employees. Bankers skip this little item no matter what the FSA says.

For MPs and bankers it is even more important and of course difficult, as they have proven, as they endeavour to manage the conflict between doing whatever is in the interests of the nation or their constituency and the vast personal greed. Enough has been said about that before.

So where is this going? Well it is about one of our government ministers, in this case Cheryl GIllan, who also happens to be the only government minister whom I have met so far. She is a lovely person, dedicated and hard working, so I am told at least – she was nice enough to me on every occasion I met her. However, she has been put in a conflict of interest situation and, worse, she has spoken out about it and, in my ever so humble opinion, not very wisely.

Cheryl is not in the easiest position but then this is the same for other ministers – with one exception – Cheryl has to watch over the interests of 3 countries. She is the MP for a constituency in England, part of the British Government and Minister for Wales. This is a recipe for conflict and so it has come to pass.

The country Great Britain needs to upgrade its transport infrastructure badly and high speed trains are part of this. Unfortunately for her the first domestic high speed train is planned to link our two largest urban conurbations – London and Birmingham. Hopefully this is only the start and the lines will quickly be extended further north and both along the east and the west coasts.

So the country Great Britain badly needs a decent transport infrastructure and some of the people of her particular constituency in England do not like it. Nothing to do with country Wales, but that will come if they ever decide to put in a decent train going west. Of  course we all know there is someone out there who loves First Great Western and wants preserve it to the disgust of the passengers – another blog.

Well Cheryl has told us where her heart lies – it is with her constituency – so she has spoken out against her colleague the Minister for Transport for Great Britain or whatever he/she is called these days. She is putting the interests of her constituency ahead of national interests. Wales has nothing to do with it at all, which is actually where her focus should be.

I understand Cheryl’s conflict – her constituency determines whether she is re-elected and can represent Wales again – but that does not mean I find this conflict of interest acceptable. Wales certainly has no say in the whole process, so it’s a bit like a European commissioner. Last but not least her colleague, the Minister for Transport must be delighted by this outpouring of support for the government’s agenda. He/she will really look for an opportunity to back Cheryl and Wales when the time comes.

All sounds a bit European – a French commissioner looking after the interests of Great Britain?

Please leave a comment - we all like them