One of Britain’s most senior civil servants, now embroiled in the Greensill scandal, waited more than a year to inform the business appointments watchdog that he had started his own firm while still serving in Whitehall.
Documents suggest Bill Crothers, who was the government’s chief commercial officer until 2015 and founded its £15bn-per-year business contracts division, the Crown Commercial Service, had a second private business interest before he left the civil service.
Crothers is among a growing cast of former and current Whitehall officials embroiled in the growing Greensill Capital lobbying scandal.
It emerged on Tuesday that he started advising the now-collapsed lender Greensill two months before he left the civil service in November 2015. The decision to start advising Greensill, which netted Crothers a stake worth an estimated $8m by 2019, was approved by the Cabinet Office.
Company records show the ex-civil servant, who was paid up to £149,000 a year before leaving office, also incorporated his own management consultancy in September 2015, at the same time that he began working for Greensill Capital as an adviser to its board.
But the advisory committee on business appointments (Acoba) has confirmed that it only received the application to review Crothers’ consultancy work in October 2016, more than a year after the company was formed.
The letter said Crothers was seeking advice on plans to “establish” the consultancy.
However, company records show the company he had established already had £29,099 in the bank, was owed £31,500, and had debts of about £20,109 by September that year. It suggests the company was already established and operating. Crothers named his consultancy “Commercial Common Sense” after one of his catchphrases at the Crown Commercial Service – and mirroring its acronym.
The shadow minister for the Cabinet Office, Rachel Reeves, said the delayed submission to Acoba raised further concerns about the “checks and measures” that are meant to monitor the revolving door between government and business.
“These latest revelations only scratch the surface of a Tory sleaze scandal that runs through Cameron and Crothers, to the Cabinet Office via Acoba,” Reeves said.
“The checks and measures under the Conservatives simply haven’t been there.
“Instead, they’ve spent the last decade weakening transparency and ramping up cronyism. This return to Tory sleaze is why we need proper a parliamentary inquiry. Instead, the Conservatives voted for another crony cover-up.”
Acoba’s correspondence said Crothers planned to take contract work with Francis Maude Associates (FMA) – headed up by Cameron’s former trade minister and Cabinet Office minister, Lord Maude of Horsham.
This was described as Crothers’ “first commission,” which involved advising overseas government on how to improve the way they bought products, services and managed commercial contracts. The assignment meant working with the government in Australia, the ultimate headquarters of his other commercial interest, Greensill Capital.
The letter also suggests the Cabinet Office had approved the decision. “When considering this application, the Committee took into account that Mr Crothers’ former department had no concerns about him setting up a consultancy and working with FMA in the manner described.”
It emerged on Tuesday that the Cabinet Office had approved Crothers’ work with Greensill before he even left the civil service. However, his work with the lender was never put forward to Acoba for review.
Crothers’ separate contract with the executive recruitment and diversity consultancy agency Green Park was reviewed by Acoba in January 2017.
The Guardian has asked Crothers to confirm whether he held any other appointments that were not reviewed by Acoba during this time.
Crothers did not comment.
Former ministers and senior civil servants are expected to report any new roles taken within two years of leaving office to their former departments, and the information is passed on to Acoba to review.
Acoba gives advice on how to avoid conflicts of interest based on the government’s wider business appointment rules, but those are not legally binding. It does not have the power to block appointments.
The Cabinet Office said in a statement: “Legitimate questions have been raised around whether the proper boundaries were observed in this case, and as announced yesterday, Nigel Boardman will be looking at all of these issues in his review.
“His findings will be published and as previously stated, he will have access to all the information he needs and speak with those involved at the time when decisions were made.”