Northern Ireland news

Finance committee to quiz civil service head over absence of ‘cooling off' period for Jenny Pyper

Former interim head of NICS Jenny Pyper

THE chair of Stormont's finance committee has said he plans to quiz the head of the civil service, Jayne Brady, over the absence of any ‘cooling off’ period for her predecessor ahead of moving to the private sector.

Jenny Pyper was appointed as a non-executive director of Firmus Energy at the start of this month, a matter of weeks after leaving her role as interim head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service (NICS).

The Irish News revealed that Ms Pyper is not subject to conditions that would have applied to her predecessors because she was not a civil servant.

Senior civil servants usually undergo a ‘cooling off' period when they leave the public sector and are often prevented from taking roles with private companies for up to two years.

The rules do not apply in this case because the Executive Office said Ms Pyper was "engaged through the Strategic Investment Board and as such, was not an employee of the NICS".

The former temporary NICS head is, however, prevented under guidelines from lobbying on behalf of Firmus for 12 months due to her previous role as chief executive of the Utility Regulator, which she left at the end of October last year.

"The guidance on senior officials taking jobs in the private sector is found in the NICS standards of conduct policy, which applies to all senior civil servants and senior Utility Regulator employees alike," a spokesman for the regulator said.

Concerns have been voiced by SDLP MLA Matthew O'Toole, who said there are "many troubling questions that need to be addressed”.

Former Ulster Unionist leader Steve Aiken also said yesterday he intended to examine the issue through his role as chair of the assembly's finance committee.

He said he was "particularly concerned" to learn that Ms Pyper wasn't a civil servant while heading up NICS.

"The interrelationship between senior civil servants, who moved to the Utility Regulator, then moved to senior positions in energy companies, regardless of short interregnums, must be issues of concern to those of us who want to see good and effective governance," Mr Aiken said.

"The finance committee is looking forward to welcoming the new head of NICS – who we hope is an actual civil servant – to answer questions and I am sure members will be seeking answers."

A spokesperson for Firmus said Ms Pyper "followed due process, sought and secured all the necessary approvals" before joining the company board.

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