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A freedom of information (FOI) request submitted by New Model Adviser®, Citywire Money's sister publication, has uncovered the extent to which asset manager BlackRock has received access to senior government officials.
BlackRock, which currently employs former chancellor George Osborne, held 14 meetings with the Treasury last year. It is understood that Brexit and tax were covered as topics of discussion.
While there is no suggestion that rules governing how much access former government officials can have with current policymakers have been broken, the FOI shows that the asset manager has been granted what has been described as 'excessive' access to a government department.
A number of high-profile Treasury officials have developed ties with BlackRock in recent years. Osborne last year joined the company in a four-day-a-month research position, earning him £650,000-a-year. He followed his former chief of staff Rupert Harrison, who joined the asset manager in 2016.
Another ex-Treasury official, Antony Manchester, joined BlackRock in 2017 to lead the firm’s Brexit position. According to a Sky News report last year he served as head of the Treasury's EU financial services unit between 2009 and 2010, before joining the Swiss Finance Council.
There is no suggestion the meetings with the Treasury were directly or solely due to the number of former Treasury officials currently working at BlackRock, or the presence of Osborne (pictured below). The former chancellor himself did not attend any of the meetings, as is he currently serving a two-year 'lobbying ban'*, which started the day he left office in April of last year. A month prior, he was appointed editor of the Evening Standard.
There is also no evidence that Harrison broke his lobbying ban to meet Treasury officials. A source told New Model Adviser® that Manchester was present at some of these meetings. As he left the Treasury in 2010, there are no restrictions on him in relation to meetings with government officials.
The FOI shows the extent to which one company has been able to gain access to the Treasury for conversations about policies that will affect its business.
Mick McAteer, director of the Financial Inclusion Centre, said 14 meetings ‘seemed quite a lot’ for one company.
‘It is an open secret that the big city institutions have an open door [to government] but to average about one-a-month for just BlackRock on its own does seem quite excessive compared to the access that other firms get,’ he said.
Out of the 14 meetings, four included conversations where other parties were also present. ‘Financial services or "global financial services" were discussed at 12 of the meetings.
One meeting in July discussed trade, while another in September covered tax issues.
The majority of these meetings were with junior Treasury officials, however on 7 March, the day before 2017’s Spring Budget, BlackRock met Katharine Braddick, the Treasury’s director general of financial services.
McAteer said Brexit would have been at the heart of many of these meetings.
'The biggest concerns would be Euro clearing and foreign exchange trading,’ he said. ‘The other big concern is going to be the future of the asset management industry [after Brexit] and the big asset managers are going to be in the Treasury, lobbying for a favourable deal for the sector.’
A spokesman from BlackRock said these meetings were held to improve the way financial services operate.
‘The majority of meetings [that] BlackRock representatives had with Treasury in 2017 were either held at the request of the Treasury or were industry roundtable meetings that BlackRock attended alongside representatives from other financial services firms. We have been invited to join these meetings because we believe, as Treasury does, that this engagement is central to making sound policy decisions,’ he said.
‘BlackRock engages with government and regulatory bodies on a regular basis to support the creation of policies that increase financial market transparency, protect investors, and facilitate responsible growth of capital markets, while preserving consumer choice.’
The Treasury said in its FOI response: ‘As an economics and finance ministry, HM Treasury engages with a range of external stakeholders. Engagement with representatives of different industries, such as those in the financial services sector, is central to economic policy decision making.’
*Osborne currently has a two-year ban from lobbying for BlackRock as set out by The Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba). The letter which confirmed his appointment was changed after New Model Adviser® alerted Acoba to the effect of his pension freedoms on BlackRock.