Trouble already in DEFRA’s paradise…

Oh dear, things aren’t looking so good for DEFRA secretary Caroline Spelman – and she hasn’t even been in the job a week.

There were rumblings of discontent at the weekend over possible conflicts of interest between Cazza’s new post and her links to food and bio-tech lobbying company Spelman, Cormack and Associates, which she ran with her hubby, Mark, until last year.

While she signed over her share of the business, the firm’s bio-tech and GM food clients are working in the sector she’s now in charge of regulating.

A bit of digging around in Farmers Weekly Towers yesterday afternoon, however, seemed to uncover that the conflicts of interest don’t stop there.

It turns out that Mark is a managing director at Accenture – the IT company responsible for the widely-derided computer system used by the Rural Payments Agency to hand out subsidies to farmers.

Accenture was given the seven-year, £35m contract in 2003, but since then costs have spiralled to £350m. The system’s been given a kicking by MPs, who reckon the only way to sort out the mess is to scrap it and start again.

There’s been a lot of interest over how a new government would deal with the mess of the RPA and its software, and with Accenture’s contract up for renewal next year there’s  going to be even more attention paid to whether it gets renewed.

An RPA mole told me a few months ago that he reckoned the agency’s in a “stranglehold” with the IT companies it works with – apparently the software’s so complicated and designed in such a way that only the IT firms know how it works. If that is the case and DEFRA has no choice but to renew the contract then it’s going to be interesting to see how Cazza and the department bats down any accusations of nepotism.

I’m starting to wonder if it might be worth having a flutter here

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