A Whitehall watchdog has criticised the UK government’s “lack of transparency” after it transpired its former chief procurement officer started work at Greensill Capital while he was still a civil servant.
Bill Crothers, who was head of government procurement overseeing an annual £40bn budget, joined Greensill Capital as a part-time adviser in September 2015, two months before leaving the civil service.
The revelation that Crothers was working for the supply-chain finance group at the same time as being a senior civil servant was outlined in correspondence between him and the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments, a Whitehall jobs watchdog that has been scrutinising whether any government rules were breached.
The corporate and political scandal that has followed Greensill Capital’s collapse last month is fuelling calls for reform of state rules stipulating when former ministers and officials can take jobs in the private sector, and risks damaging prime minister Boris Johnson’s government.
On Monday Johnson ordered an inquiry by lawyer Nigel Boardman into supply-chain finance and Greensill’s role, which is expected to focus partly on how former prime minister David Cameron lobbied ministers including chancellor Rishi Sunak to try to secure the company access to a Bank of England coronavirus loan scheme.
Shadow Cabinet Office minister Rachel Reeves described the disclosure that Crothers was working for Greensill while still a civil servant as “extraordinary and shocking” and called on the government to strengthen relevant rules.
“They need to . . . get everything about the Greensill scandal out in the open with a proper parliamentary inquiry,” she added.
Officials from Acoba wrote to Crothers and the Cabinet Office, the Whitehall department he worked in, after the Financial Times in March questioned why he had not asked for advice from the watchdog before becoming a Greensill director in August 2016.
Senior civil servants who move into the private sector are obliged to register with Acoba, which can advise against “unsuitable” appointments or prevent government lobbying by individuals for up to two years.
Lord Eric Pickles, chair of Acoba, in late March had told Crothers and the Cabinet Office that it appeared he had breached government rules when he became a Greensill director because he had not taken advice from the watchdog.
Both Crothers and Cabinet Office permanent secretary Alex Chisholm said in letters to Acoba that the rules under which he would have had to seek advice did not apply in the former head of government procurement’s case.
They both said Crothers was not obliged to contact Acoba because he had already taken on a part-time advisory role at Greensill in September 2015 while employed as a civil servant.
That appointment was approved by the Cabinet Office under its “internal conflicts of interest policy”, according to Crothers’ letter to Acoba. “This advisory role was not seen as contentious, and I believe not uncommon,” he added.
He said the part-time role initially involved working one day each month for Greensill, although he had Cabinet Office approval for up to one day each week.
Crothers said he received further Cabinet Office approval before becoming a Greensill director.
“I . . . was told that as I was already working in an advisory capacity to Greensill before I left the civil service, with that role captured under the conflicts of interest policy, no . . . application was required to be submitted to Acoba,” said Crothers, referring to his appointment as a Greensill director.
Crothers said he had not promoted Greensill “for any public sector business for more than two years after leaving the civil service”.
Referring to Crothers’ appointment as a part-time adviser to Greensill, Pickles said in a letter to Chisholm on Tuesday: “The lack of transparency around this part-time employment with Greensill may have left the misleading impression that Mr Crothers had wilfully ignored the obligation to seek advice [from Acoba].”
Pickles also called on the Cabinet Office to publish its policy on conflicts of interest and to clarify whether other civil servants secured private sector jobs in a similar way to Crothers.
The Cabinet Office, asked for comment about how Crothers worked for Greensill while at the same time being a civil servant, said: “The Boardman review into Greensill Capital and supply-chain finance will be wide-ranging and will also consider the issues raised so the public can judge whether they were appropriately handled at the time.”
Crothers did not respond to a request for comment.
Susan Hawley of Spotlight on Corruption, a transparency campaign group, said if Crothers’ appointment as a part-time adviser to Greensill while working as a civil servant “was approved by Cabinet Office under current conflict of interest rules, then these rules or their enforcement are frankly not worth the paper they are written on”.