MPs have signed off a second “full inquiry” into the Greensill lobbying scandal separate to one already launched by Boris Johnson as the government faces mounting questions over a “revolving door” with business.
The probe — to be held by the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee — was formally announced by chairman William Wragg on Thursday, as he prepared to question Lord Eric Pickles on the growing row.
“It is the intention of this committee to commence a full inquiry into the topical matters around Greensill and the terms of reference for that inquiry will be published next week,” he revealed on Thursday.
Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle, who sits on the cross-party committee, said members had agreed “unanimously” to launch a “full inquiry into Greensill and its associated ramifications into civil service, lobbying, standards in public life and Acoba: business appointments of officials.”
On Wednesday, the Treasury Select Committee also announced it would examine the issue with an inquiry and former prime minister David Cameron, who is facing intense scrutiny in his role lobbying for the now collapsed finance company, has indicated he will appear.
Mr Cameron, who joined Greensill Capital in a paid role as special adviser in 2018, two years after leaving No 10, was found to have sent to text messages and emails to ministers, including the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, in an effort to exert influence within government.
It comes as the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee heard evidence from Lord Pickles, who currently acts as the chair of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointment (Acoba) — the body responsible for vetting new jobs in the private sector for former ministers and senior civil servants.
Lord Pickles said the Bill Crothers case “highlights a number of anomalies” when it came to his watchdog, after it emerged the former head of government procurement began working for Greensill as a part-time adviser on the board in September 2015 — in a move approved by the Cabinet Office — and did not leave his role in government until November the year.
Responding to MPs’ questions, Lord Pickles, a former Conservative cabinet minister, said the public should be given a “full and frank and transparent explanation”. He said he had discovered Mr Crothers had not had to seek Acoba’s advice when moving to take up a position with the now collapsed financial company.
“It appears he was not isolated in that position,” he added. “I think it also highlights a number of anomalies within the system that require I think immediate address”.
Lord Pickles stressed that contractors and consultants to the government should have to sign a memorandum of understanding about the restrictions that would be placed on them after completing their public sector work.
Explaining some of the “anomalies in the system” regarding Lex Greensill’s work in Downing Street, he told MPs: “Contractors, consultants, people who arrive and offer assistance, maybe during the pandemic or maybe as Mr Greensill did, they are not covered at all. I think that needs addressing and I think it needs addressing urgently.”
He said there were steps that “could be taken now” to have in place “well before the summer”.
Lord Pickles said it was not clear who in the Cabinet Office had approved the arrangements surrounding Mr Crothers’ employment and subsequent move back into the private sector, though he said it was possible that it was the department’s senior civil servant.
Lord Pickles said that when he heard the details of Mr Crothers’ moves, “to misquote PG Woodhouse, my eyebrows did raise the full quarter inch… I’ve been involved in public life for a long time and I have never really come across anything like this before.”
He said he would be “extraordinarily worried” if no formal record had been kept of the decision-making process around it, as “it would have much wider implications than what is happening now”.
“I think part of the problem we’ve got is just not being clear where the boundaries lay. In fact … there doesn’t seem to be any boundary,” said Lord Pickles.
On Mr Crothers being given permission to move straight into commercial work after leaving public service, he said: “Acoba wasn’t consulted. The Cabinet Office suggested that a kind of internal ethics approach had given them permission. And as the job was essentially the same, Acoba’s consent wasn’t required.
“That’s an interesting argument, and I still have an open mind on it. But at this point, I can’t say I’m convinced by it.”
He added: “I don’t know who gave that permission. I don’t know what the arrangements are. I don’t know what the form of consent is, I don’t know the procedures for that consent to go through.”
Lord Pickles said that a series of governments dating back to the Thatcher administration had tried to attract people with business experience into the civil service.
As a result, he said: “I kind of understand how we got into that circumstance, but I don’t think it excuses the final result.”