Gyles Cooper: merchant banker, census refuser

I am a Londoner, aged 69, a retired chartered accountant and finance director, having earlier in my career spent 25 years in merchant banking. I studied German and French at Oxford University.

For more than 20 years I have been a supporter of the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) and I served as the Campaign’s treasurer at a time when it was infiltrated on behalf of British Aerospace (now BAE Systems). Last year I refused to complete my census because of the involvement of an arms company –I am now being prosecuted because of my ethical objection.

I entirely support the census in principle; the questions asked caused me no concern. I fully believe that a government needs this information to assist with the formulation of policy. However, my opinion of the arms industry and of its business practices means that I cannot willingly co-operate with an organisation such as Lockheed Martin. They are the largest US weapons contractor and inter alia the manufacturer of cluster bombs and Trident nuclear missiles.

I appreciate the need to obtain the best value for money and to ensure that the contractor has the necessary technical competence. However, I believe that the Office for National Statistics (ONS) should also understand that an appointment which offends many people on ethical grounds and turns them into “census refuseniks” runs counter to their stated obligation to ensure that the census is as complete as possible.

The witness statement provided by the Chief Procurement Officer at the ONS claims that, “it is difficult to include ethics in any evaluation criteria because they are subjective to the individual,” and that any inclusion of ethical considerations would “defeat the two foundations of procurement: fairness and transparency. In effect, personal motivation would influence the outcome despite technical expertise or cost effectiveness and this simply must not be allowed.”

The clear consequence of such a stance is that no company capable of doing the job at a reasonable price can be ruled out, no matter how vile or criminal its record may be. It is disturbing to learn that the ONS and the government itself does not have its own ethical code and regards ethics as no more than a variety of opinions held by members of the public.

I find it incomprehensible, indeed shameful, that, out of all the organisations which presumably tendered for this work, the UK government should opt for companies such as Lockheed Martin for the England, Wales and Northern Ireland census, and CACI –a corporation whose employees were directly involved in the torture of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib- for the Scottish census. We are told that ethical considerations “simply must not be allowed” and as a result two companies from the American military industrial complex were engaged.

Many individuals cannot put their ethical views so lightly to one side and are now in effect being prosecuted for their beliefs.

Gyles Cooper
February 2012

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