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Gibb director slammed for English Heritage 'deception'

GIBB CHIEF executive Peter Brettell this week leapt to the defence of one of his directors criticised by MPs for lack of 'integrity'.

Gibb rail director Chris Green was censured by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee for actions taken while he was serving as the chief executive of government conservation body English Heritage.

In a report issued this week, the committee claimed that Green's 'deception' of EH chairman Sir Jocelyn Stevens over an advertising contract 'breached the standards of integrity and trust essential for public accountability and amounted to a breach of his fundamental duty'. It added: 'We consider Green's actions represented a clear failure in the proper conduct of public business'.

Green resigned from English Heritage in July 1996, accepting some responsibility for the controversy and admitting that 'mistakes were made'. He joined Gibb in the autumn (NCE 10 October 1996).

Brettell, who said that he had appointed Green in full knowledge of the allegations, claimed he had 'no doubt about his integrity' and praised Green's response to the investigation as 'highly ethical'.

Asked if he thought the MPs had treated Green fairly, Brettell said: 'Do MPs, looking to exploit a situation, ever treat anyone fairly'. He added: 'In any case, what Chris is accused of is not that heinous given what some MPs have got up to recently.'

Brettell added that when he had investigated Green's background before appointing him, he had 'found nothing that would compromise him or Gibb'. Admitting that he did not know the details of what had happened at EH, he suggested that Green had 'fallen foul of civil service procedures' because he had been 'so keen to get things done'.

The Gibb chief executive said that he had not had to justify the appointment to any client and claimed that the controversy was 'a diversion' and had 'in no way impaired' Green's contribution to the company or the rail sector. Green is also a non-executive director of Eurotunnel and train operator Connex.

The PAC report claims that, while at English Heritage, Green sent a memo which 'created an incorrect and misleading record' of a meeting in which it was decided that the conservation body would not replace its advertising agency.

When asked by Stevens for a financial review of the new contract, the report says: 'Green incorrectly suggested to the chairman that a larger budget was available for the advertising campaign than

was actually the case at the time'.

Green accepted that he acted inappropriately in this respect, but pleaded that it was not until he attended an accounting course 14 months after his appointment 'that he fully appreciated the more stringent interpretation of standards of public accountability expected'. The PAC states: 'We do not find Green's professed lack of awareness credible.'

The PAC also expressed concern over the sale of furniture owned by Green to English Heritage in March 1995, which was then used to furnish his own office. EH paid £4,431 for the furniture, which Green bought back on resigning, minus £950 depreciation.

The PAC concludes by recommending a number of measures to improve the governance of 'government non-departmental bodies', the selection of senior civil servants and the appropriateness of roles given to them.

Alastair McLellan

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