The collapse of the financial services company Greensill Capital in March this year has been accompanied by revelations about the proximity of the company and its founder, Lex Greensill, to key figures in Government. Greensill Capital was contracted by the Government to provide an early payment scheme for pharmacies and was an approved lender for the Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Scheme (CLBILS) and the Coronavirus Business Interruption Scheme (CBILS). In addition, it emerged that Greensill Capital employed former Prime Minister David Cameron and that he had approached officials and Ministers directly to lobby them on behalf of the company. Greensill Capital also employed the Government’s former Chief Commercial Officer, Bill Crothers, who had started to work at the company before he had left the Civil Service. Furthermore, Lex Greensill had previously worked at the Cabinet Office as some sort of adviser and, later, as a Crown Representative advising on Government procurement.
This is an interim report establishing, as best we have been able, the nature of Lex Greensill’s relationship with Government. In addition to several inquiries by Parliamentary Select Committees, the Government asked Nigel Boardman to conduct a review into these matters. His review has apparently been facilitated by the Government and he has had access to people and records that we have not. However, given that his review has taken evidence in camera, we felt it important to conduct our own inquiry with publicly available evidence. We will consider Mr Boardman’s report and its recommendations in the next phase of our inquiry and intend to take evidence from Mr Boardman once his report is published. In particular, we have not addressed the issues related to Greensill Capital’s efforts to lobby Government; this will form a key component of the next phase of our inquiry
There are gaps in our inquiry. We are disappointed that Lex Greensill declined our invitation to give evidence. We consider his reticence to cooperate inconsistent with the ethos of public service. Though we decided to proceed with this interim report without hearing from him, if we later decide we require him to give evidence, we expect his cooperation to be forthcoming.
We found no conflicts of interest relating to Lex Greensill’s time attached to the Cabinet Office nor the award of the Pharmaceutical Early Payments Scheme (PEPS) after he had left Government service. However, we were surprised at the autonomy Mr Greensill appeared to enjoy, as well as the access he had during this time. Despite being a consultant attached to the Cabinet Office, Mr Greensill was able to act as a “Senior Adviser” in the Prime Minister’s Office and had access to Number 10 premises and equipment. We would not expect consultants to have the freedom or authority to act in ways that Mr Greensill did and nor is it desirable that they should. It raises concerns that we have had previously about the ways in which external consultants have been used in Government. We heard that some in Government were concerned about Mr Greensill’s position at the time, and we were advised that advice was sought from the then Head of Propriety and Ethics, Sue Gray. However, we have been prevented from hearing her evidence on these matters.
We were mindful that the late Lord Heywood, the former Cabinet Secretary, is not able to answer questions about his role in the events under consideration. We do know that Lex Greensill was a former colleague of Lord Heywood, whose role in bringing him into Government was highlighted during our oral evidence sessions. However, in doing so, Lord Heywood appears to have been operating in accordance with Government policy on Supply Chain Finance at the time. Whilst there appears to have been some reluctance to explore the use of Supply Chain Finance in some parts of Government, we heard that there was nevertheless support for doing so in Number 10 at official and Ministerial level.
We found that the Government’s Chief Commercial Officer at the time, Bill Crothers, went to work for Greensill Capital part time while still working in the Cabinet Office, and later went on to become a director at the company. At no point was the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments consulted. Though the company did not, at that stage, hold any Government contracts, it was to go on to do so. Whilst there were no apparent conflicts of interest at the time, too little attention was given to the potential reputational risk for Government and the Civil Service in allowing him to hold the two roles simultaneously. The complexity of the Business Appointment Rules and their implementation seemed to account for the omission. We were advised Mr Crothers had consulted both his Permanent Secretary and the Head of the Propriety and Ethics Team in the Cabinet Office at the relevant time, Sue Gray before his move. We were prevented from hearing from Sue Gray. Ms Gray had initially agreed to appear, but her appearance was subsequently blocked by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office, Michael Gove. This has left a number of significant questions outstanding. Furthermore, Mr Gove cited the Osmotherly Rules in preventing Ms Gray’s appearance. These Rules are not recognised by Parliament, but his characterisation of those rules was nevertheless erroneous; they do not prevent officials from appearing before Committees in the way he claimed. Indeed, the refusal of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to allow Ms Gray to appear before the Committee has seriously impeded the conduct of our inquiry.