Tuesday, 15 Jun 2021

Greensill lobbying scandal: Former top civil servant denies role with bank caused conflict of interest

The government’s former chief procurement officer who became an adviser to Greensill Capital while still working as a civil servant says there was no conflict of interest as he fulfilled both roles.

Bill Crothers, who began advising Greensill bank in September 2015, remained in his Westminster role until November that year and from then continued to work for the finance firm.

Giving evidence to the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) on Tuesday, Mr Crothers denied there was a lack of transparency surrounding his role.

Mr Crothers told MPs: “My intention was to completely follow the rules, in spirit and in form. I was transparent in all that I did and no conflict happened.”

The Office of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments found the Cabinet Office had agreed to Mr Crothers fulfilling both roles.

The watchdog’s chairman Lord Pickles said the situation demonstrated a “lack of transparency”, but Mr Crothers maintains the appointment was conducted in a “transparent” manner.

Mr Crothers told the committee it was Sue Gray, the current permanent secretary at the Cabinet Office, who approved him maintaining the role in the civil service while working for Greensill.

He added that he had always had plans to return to the private sector and that taking up the role with the firm was not “double-hatting” but “a transitional arrangement”.

The former top official also disclosed that he had discussed joining Greensill Capital with former Cabinet secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood, who died in 2018.

He said Sir Jeremy was “extremely positive” about the opportunity and “supportive of me joining Greensill capital’s board”, which influenced his decision to accept the role.

It comes amid the continuing investigation into connections between Greensill Capital, founded by business tycoon Lex Greensill, and Conservative former prime minister David Cameron.

It was revealed earlier this year that Mr Cameron pushed for greater access to government loan schemes for Greensill Capital, sending text messages to Chancellor Rishi Sunak.

Both Mr Cameron and Mr Sunak have already been quizzed on the matter by the relevant Commons select committees.

Mr Cameron says he did not break any codes of conduct or rules on lobbying.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has set up an inquiry into lobbying which will include looking at the conduct of Greensill bank.

Also giving evidence to the committee, former Cabinet Office chief Sir John Manzoni admitted the guidance on lobbying “should have been tighter” for individuals leaving the civil service, but added that he does not believe any lobbying took place for Mr Greensill by recently departed officials.

Sir John added that Mr Greensill may have had an “agenda” in hiring Mr Crothers to work for his finance firm.

“Well I think the issue of… was Lex working some agenda, working some angle – which, by the way, only came to fruition more than two years after this happened – was he working some agenda? He may well have been.

“And I must admit, in retrospect, we probably should have said, by the way Mr Crothers, you mustn’t lobby or do any of those things for a period after you’ve left the civil service.

“I think in retrospect we probably, could, should have been tighter in doing that.”

Sir John said Mr Crothers “absolutely wasn’t lobbying for anything for Lex Greensill for a period of two years”, adding: “I don’t think there was malintent.”

Last month, Mr Greensill denied his previous government role allowed him to win contracts for his business.

Mr Greensill told MPs he was brought into the Cabinet Office as an adviser – when Mr Cameron was prime minister – during the “wreckage post the financial crisis”.

The Australian financier denied he would have been able to use his Cabinet Office role to boost his own commercial interests.

A spokesperson for Mr Greensill declined to comment on the allegations at Tuesday’s hearing when contacted by Sky News.

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