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Amazon’s cosy government links

A former government digital service official has now moved to Amazon – as part of a team selling digital services to the government. SOLOMON HUGHES reports

AMAZON is hiring top government staff as it pursues public-sector contracts. 

Expanding Amazon’s public-sector work is both a money-maker and a possible way of fending of any regulation that could slow its money-printing machine.

The latest hire is revealed by a “transparency release” from the Department for International Trade (DiT) covering business appointment rules regarding the “revolving door” between business and government. 

These rules cover director-level civil servants, the third-highest rank in each department. 

The latest release shows that Holly Ellis, who was the department’s director of digital, has a new job as a senior manager at Amazon Web Services. 

The DiT does not note that Ellis is in fact in charge of the public-sector team at Amazon. 

Ellis used to be in charge of the DiT’s digital strategy and before that was a senior figure in the government digital service. 

Now she is part of Amazon’s team selling digital services to the government.

The DiT claims that its rules mean that for two years Ellis “should not make use, directly or indirectly, of contacts in government and/or crown service to influence policy or secure business on behalf of Amazon,” but there is no way of enforcing this rule. 

Amazon is very interested in winning government contracts — it can make a lot of money hosting and processing government data on its cloud storage. 

I suspect Amazon also — probably rightly — thinks that if it becomes a major government supplier, it will be able to resist further government regulation. 

Amazon faces political pressure over its tax-avoiding strategies and exploitative labour practices. 

But the more the government relies on it for services, the less likely it is to face serious regulation. 

As shadow chancellor, John McDonnell tried to reverse this position. Last September, when Amazon had won some 40 UK public-sector contracts worth around £460 million, McDonnell argued Amazon should be stripped of British public contracts until it paid a proper rate of tax. 

Amazon is clearly determined to get deeper into the British public sector to fend off this kind of threat.


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