Financier Lex Greensill was announced as a Crown Representative with influence over government contracts by the same senior official he later employed at his firm, the Standard can reveal.
Bill Crothers praised the “top business acumen” entering Whitehall in a press release naming the Australian venture capitalist as joining the Crown Representatives programme, which recruits experts from the private sector to help the Government strike better deals with suppliers.
The disclosure threw a spotlight on the network of private sector experts at the Cabinet Office. Dame Angela Eagle, the Treasury Committee member and former minister, said it looked like “a revolving door in plain sight” and tabled questions in Parliament.
The network of Crown Representatives was launched in 2011 by former minister Francis Maude who now runs a company that advises firms doing business with government. Their role to help negotiate better contracts was said by the Coalition government to have saved taxpayers billions of pounds.
However, critics say the network has the potential for mutual backscratching. Crown Representatives are given a security pass for the Cabinet Office and a grandiose title, but are allowed to be paid more by the private sector than they get from the Civil Service.
Mr Crothers became a Crown Representative while working at the Home Office before becoming the Government’s Chief Procurement Officer. He led the formation of the Crown Commercial Service, which took over the network. In 2014 his name was on a Cabinet Office press release that announced six new Crown Representatives, including Lex Greensill, who was described as “Chief Executive of Greensill Capital and a Trustee of the Monteverdi Choir & Orchestra”.
One year later, Mr Crothers was given a job at Greensill, initially part-time while still in the Civil Service, later as a vice president. Astonishment was voiced this week by former civil servants that the latter appointment was never vetted by the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba).
However, Mr Crothers denied there had been a lack of transparency as the appointment had been approved by the Cabinet Office.
Dame Angela’s parliamentary questions ask for a list of present and former Crown Representatives, the cost to the public purse and whether any of them worked for Francis Maude Associates. She said: “It looks to me as if the system of Crown Representative has evolved in a worrying way and the lack of a register of interests sets alarm bells ringing.”
A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “Crown Representatives do not participate in the procurement process nor are they able to award any contracts…All Crown Representatives go through regular propriety checks.”
Mr Greensill’s spokesman was invited to comment and attempts were made to contact Mr Crothers. A Whitehall source said no Crown Representative has gone on to work for the company whose contracts they oversaw.
Separately, Mr Crothers broke official rules by failing to seek advice before taking up a role as trustee of a professional body, according to Acoba. He took the unpaid role as a trustee at the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply in November 2016, a year after leaving Whitehall. Mr Crothers said he did not believe approval was required for the role and was “sorry for this honest mistake”.
Meanwhile, Labour claimed there are “serious questions to answer” over Matt Hancock having shares in a family company which reportedly has contracts with the NHS. The Health Secretary declared in the MPs’ register of interests in March that he now owns shares in Topwood Limited.
A Government spokeswoman said he had acted “entirely properly in these circumstances” and that all declarations of interest have been made “in accordance with the ministerial code”.