Tory insiders are being handed powerful Whitehall jobs despite promises that “independent” people would be appointed, an analysis shows.
The boards overseeing government departments are meant to be staffed through “fair and transparent competition”, finding private-sector recruits boasting “experience of managing complex organisations”.
But no fewer than eight of 13 appointments made this year have gone to close Conservative allies of the ministers they are meant to scrutinise.
Four of the five appointees to the Cabinet Office's board this year are former colleagues of its lead minister, Michael Gove – including Lord Nash, who has given more than £400,000 to the Tory party, The Times found.
The Institute for Government said it was better that non-executive directors are independent figures with new thinking, rather than former ministers or political advisers.
Alex Thomas, its programme director, said: “Don't treat them as additional ministers or special advisers. The critical thing is they are appointed through a proper process, that they add value and make government better – and are not placed people.”
And Rachel Reeves, Labour’s shadow Cabinet Office minister, said: “The government's own rules state that these roles must be filled through 'fair and open competition'.
“At a time when public trust in government is more important than ever, this government should be wary of creating the impression that such appointments are made with anything other than ability to do the job in mind.”
Departmental boards were introduced in 2010 to “fundamentally transform the way government operates, scrutinising decisions and sharpening accountability”.
But ministers have appointed growing number of former special advisers to the positions, which come with an average salary of £15,000 per year.
Lord Nash, appointed by Boris Johnson last week as the government's lead non-executive director, was a Tory schools minister and donated £3,250 to Mr Gove's failed 2016 leadership campaign.
Baroness Finn, another director, is a Conservative peer who also served as a special adviser, in the Cabinet Office, and attended Oxford University at the same time as Mr Gove, The Times said.
Last month, the Department for Work and Pensions appointed Eleanor Shawcross, a former adviser to George Osborne, and Rachel Wolf, the co-author of last year's Tory election manifesto, to its departmental board.
As foreign secretary, Mr Johnson made Edward Lister, now his chief of staff and recently-appointed Tory peer, as a Foreign Office non-executive director.
In a statement, the Cabinet Office said: “Lord Nash has extensive experience in business and in government, for example as a non-executive director at the Department for Education, and so is well placed to help the government deliver its agenda.”