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Government criticises trust over chief executive appointment

Published on: 1 Jun 2022

An East of England trust has breached government rules by announcing its new chief executive too early — putting him in what was described as an ‘untenable’ position.

West Hertfordshire Teaching Hospitals Trust appointed former civil servant Matthew Coats  in April, after Christine Allen announced she was retiring, and confirmed this at a public board meeting that month.

But Mr Coats, who previously worked at the Department of Health and Social Care, Home Office and in the Cabinet Office, was subject to “Business Appointment Rules”, which applies to all civil servants.

The ministerial code requires all civil servants leaving the service to seek advice from the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments about any job they want to take within two years of leaving, and no announcements about new appointments should be made while the process is ongoing.

ACOBA received Mr Coats’ application on 6 April and the trust made its announcement at its public board meeting on 7 April, which ACOBA said constituted a breach of the rules.

In a letter to West Hertfordshire Hospitals,  ACOBA chair Lord Eric Pickles wrote: “It is a matter of some regret that the trust chose to put its needs before that of the rules, which has put Mr Coats in an untenable position.”

Cabinet office minister Lord True confirmed in a separate letter that there was a “minor breach” but that “the fault does not lie with Mr Coats, and further action would be disproportionate in this case”.

Trust chair Phil Townsend defended the decision for the early announcement, saying normally the trust would announce a new CEO “within days” following the final interview process, for its “credibility and stability”.

He added: “A number of days had elapsed without any announcement which was developing a risk to the credibility and transparency of the appointment. Therefore, I made judgement to make the announcement on 7 April… This was made in good faith and with the best interests of the health economy at the heart of this decision.

“It is unfortunate that this was inconsistent with the governance arrangements within the civil service and we take note to reflect on how this could be managed more effectively in the future.”

Mr Coats wrote to ACOBA: “I have tried to follow the process and had informed this organisation about the process too. I’m very sorry this has happened.”