Whitehall ethics chief admits Greensill appointment ‘conflict of interest’

Emma Bowden
·4-min read

A senior Cabinet Office official has admitted that Lex Greensill’s appointment to a role in Downing Street was a “screaming, glaring conflict of interest”.

Darren Tierney, director general of propriety and ethics in the Cabinet Office, told the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) that the Australian financier’s exact role as an adviser was “unclear”.

Links between Greensill Capital, a firm which was founded by the financier, the Government and David Cameron have come under scrutiny amid controversy over the former prime minister’s lobbying on behalf of the firm.

The disclosures over Mr Cameron’s lobbying activities on behalf of Greensill – including sending texts to Chancellor Rishi Sunak – led to Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordering a review by the senior lawyer Nigel Boardman.

Appearing before MPs, Mr Tierney said that Mr Greensill was appointed as an unpaid adviser on “supply chain finance” from 2012 to 2015, which was during Mr Cameron’s premiership.

Mr Tierney said he had asked Mr Boardman to look into the details but his understanding was that Greensill did not have contracts with the Government until “much later on”, around 2018.

He was asked by Tory MP David Jones if Mr Greensill had acquired information in No 10 that “would have been of assistance to him” in deciding the basis upon which he would offer commercial services to the Government.

Watch: Government Lobbying Scandal Explained

During the committee session on Monday, Mr Tierney said: “I think it’s exactly that potential conflict of interest that we have asked Nigel Boardman to look at.”

Former minister Mr Jones then asked: “I mean, you say potential conflict of interest, doesn’t it look a screaming, glaring conflict of interest?

Mr Tierney responded: “Yes it does.”

When asked if it looked to be “appalling incompetence” by senior officials, Mr Tierney said: “What we haven’t seen is the evidence of how the conflict was to be managed, and that is what we have asked Nigel Boardman to look into.”

In a statement earlier this month, Mr Cameron said that Mr Greensill was brought in to work with the government by former Cabinet secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood in 2011.

Cheltenham Literature Festival
Former prime minister David Cameron (Jacob King/PA)

“He was not a political appointee, but part of the Civil Service drive to improve government efficiency,” Mr Cameron said, adding that the pair had very little contact in his time as prime minister.

Mr Tierney said that officials had found appointment letters but had so far been unable to identify a contract for Mr Greensill, who left the Cabinet Office in 2016.

Asked about the nature of Mr Greensill’s role, Mr Tierney told MPs: “He wasn’t a special adviser – his exact status is unclear. That’s one of the things that we have asked Nigel Boardman to look into.”

The collapse of Greensill – which filed for insolvency in March – has threatened thousands of UK jobs at Liberty Steel, which was dependent on it for its financing.

During the committee session, senior officials also acknowledged concerns about how Bill Crothers had been able to combine his role as the Government’s procurement chief with a position at Greensill.

Mr Crothers began advising the firm in September 2015 but remained in his civil service role until November that year, after which he carried on working for the financial services firm.

Former civil service chief Sir Jeremy and former Whitehall chief executive Sir John Manzoni had approved the dual role, MPs were told, but there was no ministerial involvement.

Simon Case, the Cabinet Secretary and the UK’s most senior civil servant, giving evidence to the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee
Cabinet Secretary Simon Case giving evidence to the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (House of Commons/PA)

Cabinet Secretary Simon Case told MPs during the PACAC evidence session that it was a “pretty extraordinary set of circumstances”.

Documents released by the Treasury showed Mr Crothers was involved in efforts to persuade officials to grant Greensill access to a coronavirus finance scheme in 2020.

It led the Cabinet Secretary to order an investigation into whether other senior officials currently held dual roles.

In a letter to the committee, Mr Case said he was “aware of fewer than one hundred senior civil servants who hold paid employment alongside their civil service role” following an investigation.

Watch: Former prime minister repeatedly lobbied Bank of England for Greensill access to COVID support