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Cronyism Rules Need Urgent Reform In The Wake Of The Greensill Scandal, Says Watchdog Chair Lord Pickles

Lord Pickles said the discovery a senior civil servant took up a role at Greensill while still working in Whitehall aid his discovery the former senior civil servant Bill Crothers took up a role with the now-collapsed financial firm while still working in Whitehall 'highlights a number of anomalies' in the vetting system (Parliamentlive.TV)

3 min read

The chair of the body which vets private sector roles for former politicians and officials says the system needs fixing “urgently” in the wake of the Greensill lobbying scandal.

Lord Pickles said his discovery that the former senior civil servant Bill Crothers took up a role with the now-collapsed financial firm while still working in Whitehall “highlights a number of anomalies within the system that require immediate address”.

The chair of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba) said he has “been really unhappy for some time” over the existing regulation.

Giving evidence to the Public Administration Committee (PACAC) this morning he said he was surprised when he heard Crothers, who was head of government procurement for a number of years, had not had to seek Acoba's advice when taking up a position with Greensill Capital.

“It's fair to say – to misquote PG Wodehouse – my eyebrows did raise the full quarter inch,” he said. 

The former cabinet minister told MPs: "This is not particularly unusual in terms of civil servants having second jobs but it is not usually seen at this level of the civil service.

"At the level that Mr Crothers was, the kind of way the system would have been used would have been to allow them to offer advice to Citizens' Advice or some other voluntary organisation, or sit on a board of a housing association or be involved with a health authority.

"That usually would present no problem because it would not usually involve any remuneration.

"So I was surprised with regard to the excuse and it did seem, talking to other colleagues who had enjoyed being civil servants in the past, that they also shared my surprise – this seems to be a new thing, or a new excuse.”

He said he hoped there was a record of the decision to allow Crothers to join Greensill in 2015, and it was not "just on the say so of an individual".

“If Mr Crothers had decided he wanted to have a milk round I don't think we'd be terribly worried," Pickles added.

“But his particular position in terms of running procurement and working for a commercial organisation is something that does require a full and frank and transparent explanation.”

He said contractors and consultants to the government should have to sign a memorandum of understanding about restrictions placed on them after completing their public sector work, after suggesting Lex Greensill wasn’t covered by the existing rules.

"I think that needs addressing and I think it needs addressing urgently”, Pickles added.

He was giving evidence after it was uncovered that David Cameron had been lobbying on behalf of Greensill last year, when he was a paid advisor to the company, and had contacted several current ministers about getting it accepted onto government pandemic funding schemes.

Boris Johnson has ordered a lawyer-led review into the matter, but the scandal has continued to spread through Westminster this week and a number of inquires are now looking into the revolving door between high office, Whitehall and the private sector.

Explaining his frustration with the current system of oversight Pickles said: “I've been really unhappy about this, and I've been unhappy about this for some time.

“And I've been making various recommendations for some time, and of course, because of Covid and because of all kinds of things I understand that people have more important things to do.

“But I have been warning of the possibility of a scandal with regard to this for some time.”

Touching on the role of Cameron, whose Cabinet he served in for five years, he added: “If I am being absolutely candid with you, this is not where I expected it to come from.”

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