Greensill Capital lobbying scandal and stench of sleaze – Bill Carmichael

IMAGINE for a moment that the managing director of a large company announced that he also wanted to work part-time as a paid advisor for one of its suppliers.

David Cameron and the Tories are emboriled in a cronyism and lobbying scandal.
David Cameron and the Tories are emboriled in a cronyism and lobbying scandal.

No matter how talented the individual, is there not a clear risk of a conflict of interest? In future negotiations will he be acting in the interests of his full-time employers, or for the supplier he is also paid to advise?

It is pretty much unthinkable that the board would sanction such an arrangement. Shareholders have every right to expect a paid employee to act for their company’s benefit and not for anybody else.

There is nothing new or unusual about this. Indeed the concept goes back as far as the New Testament of the Bible where St Matthew’s gospel states: “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.”

Boris Johnson was questioned about the lobbying scandal at Prime Minister's Questions.

But such wisdom apparently doesn’t count for much with the British civil service, normally a model of probity around the world. Quite the most extraordinary aspect of the Greensill Capital scandal currently dominating the headlines isn’t the fact that former Prime Minister David Cameron was lobbying his old mates in government on behalf of the now collapsed finance company.

I’m afraid that former politicians trying to make money from the contacts they gained while in office is nothing new, and cuts across party lines. Cameron insists he didn’t breach any codes of conduct and after resigning as Prime Minister he appears to have waited the two years stated in the rules before starting work for Greensill.

It is also notable that his lobbying efforts – to get Greensill more access to government-backed loans – ultimately proved unsuccessful.

No, the most jaw-dropping aspect of this story is the revelation that a very senior civil servant took a part-time job with Greensill while still on the government payroll.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is embroiled in the lobbying scandal.

Bill Crothers, who was formerly the Government’s chief procurement officer, joined the board of Greensill in September 2015 as a part-time advisor, before leaving the Civil Service two months later and then becoming a director of Greensill in 2016.

Mr Crothers says he followed the proper processes and apparently his appointment was approved by the Cabinet Office – which if confirmed makes the whole affair even more astonishing.

Lord Pickles, the Yorkshire-born chairman of the Office of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments, which deals with such matters, has complained of a “lack of transparency” over Mr Crothers’ appointment.

This week in the House of Commons, the Government defeated Labour’s plans for a full Parliamentary inquiry into the affair. Instead Boris Johnson has appointed a senior lawyer, Nigel Boardman, to investigate and report back by the end of June. The Treasury Select Committee of MPs has also announced its own inquiry.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer criticised the “cronyism” at the heart of the Conservative party, and he is clearly trying to pin the allegation of sleaze – that did so much to damage John Major’s “Back to Basics” administration back in the 1990s – on to Johnson’s Government. I am not sure that one will stick – Labour has had plenty of its own problems and I suspect the reaction of the average voter will be “they’re all it!”

Closer to the mark was the intervention of Gordon Brown who said former Prime Ministers should never lobby the government for commercial purposes, saying “it simply brings public service into disrepute”.

He added that the period between ministers leaving office and working for private lobbyists should be increased to five years.

We will see what the various investigations recommend, but probably more urgent is the issue of what has inevitably been dubbed the “moonlighting mandarins”.

Cabinet Secretary Simon Case – the UK’s top civil servant – has sent out a letter asking colleagues to declare by the end of this week second jobs and outside interests that might conflict with Civil Service obligations with regard to honesty, integrity, objectivity and impartiality. All well and good – but why did nobody in the Civil Service think of doing this before?

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