In the last few days two news stories have emerged which illustrate the challenge of how people get into positions of power and influence, with all of the baggage that helped them to get there in the first place. There is no other link between these stories but it is clear that we need some way of resolving what in the minds of many people is a clear conflict of interest.
The first example is a chap called Pete who is a powerful person in the the Rail Industry. I have written about him previously in the context of the failures of Southern. I recall at the time I did so after first checking out his profile on the business social network, LinkedIn. However after I read this piece in the Guardian which shed a bit more light on his background I wanted to double check the details and discovered that his previous profile is no longer visible. This is a theme that has emerged in the past when people I have written about have changed their LinkedIn profile after a lot of public attention regarding what they say they have done. Suffice it to say, Mr Wilkinson who currently earns £260,000 a year as head of franchises at the Department for Transport, was previously a consultant advising companies on how to win franchises, and he did not sell his shares and end his connections with the company concerned until he was challenged and had been in a senior position with DfT for some time.
The other example is Donald Trump whose attempts to distance himself from his business interests have got as far as handing over control of his business empire to his two sons and appointed an ethics adviser for the group of companies. This is clearly something of a joke, but clearly whatever he ends up doing has a whole host of challenges.
Many people argue that we need successful people in positions of power, and that we need to find ways of bringing in expertise to Government that is not wholly reliant on ‘how we have always done things’. The challenge is how do we set out clear parameters for such situations that don’t put off people who have something valuable to offer society but doesn’t lead the people who are being ‘served’ by such individuals left feeling that they have been used and sold a poor deal. In writing this I am not suggesting that Peter Wilkinson or Donald Trump are people I would necessarily wish to see in such positions, but the principle remains relevant irrespective of how such people handle their roles.