Greensill affair: Lobbying scandal grows with revelation of David Cameron contact with No 10 and Hancock

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Andrew Woodcock
·5 min read
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David Cameron’s government introduced the statutory register of lobbyists (Getty Images)
David Cameron’s government introduced the statutory register of lobbyists (Getty Images)

The former prime minister David Cameron is coming under increased pressure over his lobbying for the failed finance firm Greensill, after it emerged that he pushed the company’s case with Downing Street and the health secretary, Matt Hancock.

On Saturday, Labour demanded a ministerial statement to parliament on the extent of Mr Cameron’s efforts to exert influence within government on behalf of the company, as well as a National Audit Office (NAO) inquiry into why Greensill was given access to a Treasury coronavirus support scheme offering government-backed loans of up to £50m.

And the former head of Westminister’s spending watchdog called for a full independent inquiry into the whole affair.

“We need an independent inquiry immediately,” said Dame Margaret Hodge, the ex-chair of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee. “The whole scandal stinks.”

The supply-chain finance company was rejected for the Bank of England’s Covid Corporate Financing Facility despite Mr Cameron repeatedly sending private texts to the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, pleading for the scheme to be amended so Greensill could qualify.

Records released by the Treasury this week showed that on one occasion Mr Sunak responded to say he had “pushed” officials to explore possible options.

Now it has emerged that the former premier emailed a senior special adviser to Boris Johnson within hours of the rejection to argue that it was “nuts” for Greensill to be excluded and urging the government to reconsider.

The Sunday Times reported that the Treasury reconsidered its decision after Mr Cameron wrote: “What we need is for Rishi to have a good look at this and ask officials to find a way of making it work.”

A source close to the prime minister insisted that Mr Johnson had not become involved, as his adviser simply forwarded the email to the Treasury.

And a No 10 spokesperson said: “Throughout the pandemic, an immense number of businesses contacted Downing Street with representations; these were passed on to relevant departments.”

It was also revealed that Mr Cameron brought the company’s founder, Lex Greensill, and its director, Bill Crothers, to private drinks with Mr Hancock in 2019, when they lobbied the health secretary to adopt a payment scheme for doctors and nurses that was later rolled out within the NHS.

An ally of the health secretary insisted that Mr Hancock had dealt with the lobbying in an appropriate way, telling The Independent: “Matt acted in entirely the correct way. He updated officials on the business that was discussed, as is appropriate.”

Mr Hancock is the fourth minister confirmed to have been lobbied by Mr Cameron, after Mr Sunak and fellow Treasury ministers Jesse Norman and John Glen.

But the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) insisted that it was an issue for local NHS employers whether to use the Greensill system, which allows staff payments to be accelerated.

A DHSC spokesperson said: “The wellbeing of NHS staff is the top priority of the department and health secretary.

“Our approach was and is that local NHS employers are best placed to decide how different pay flexibilities fit with their overall pay and reward offer for their staff.“

The shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, Bridget Phillipson, said: “Every day brings fresh revelations about the culture of cronyism at the heart of this Conservative government. Through David Cameron, Greensill looks to have had the run of government from Number 10 down, including access to millions of pounds of public money.

“And yet we’ve heard nothing from Rishi Sunak about the role he played in ‘pushing’ his officials to change the rules of government schemes to suit Cameron and Greensill.

“He needs to come out of hiding and make a statement to parliament at the earliest opportunity and answer questions on this growing scandal. And we need a full and thorough investigation into what happened.”

Mr Cameron has so far remained silent on his involvement with Greensill, which he joined as a paid employee in 2018, two years after leaving Downing Street.

But responding to the revelation of his lobbying of Mr Hancock, a source close to the former prime minister said: “David Cameron was an enthusiastic champion of Greensill’s pay product, Earnd, and met with various people to discuss its rollout across the NHS.”

Friends have said that he now regrets lobbying Mr Sunak by private text messages, and accepts that “it could be argued that a formal letter would have been more appropriate”.

The friends rejected as “massively exaggerated” the reports that the ex-PM hoped to gain £60m from stock options in the company.

It was today reported that he in fact stood to benefit from a share of a £21.8m employee trust.

The Observer reported Greensill records showing 13,931 shares held by Jersey-based offshore wealth manager Sanne Fiduciary Services and reserved for stock options issued to employees. None are understood to have been distributed before the company went into administration.

Labour has already demanded an investigation into Mr Cameron’s alleged use of text messages to gain privileged access for Greensill to the highest levels of government, in a way that was not available to other companies.

Now the shadow chancellor, Anneliese Dodds, has called on the NAO to launch an inquiry into whether the company’s access to the Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CLBILS) put public money at risk.

In a letter to the auditor general, Gareth Davies, Ms Dodds said that Greensill was the only financial technology firm approved to administer the scheme last June, enabling it to issue government-backed loans of up to £50m at a time.

“It was not regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority or the Bank of England,” wrote Ms Dodds. “The Treasury has admitted that it was aware Greensill was not subject to the capital adequacy and stress tests that applied to other lenders on the scheme to protect public money.

“I am aware that you have previously commissioned an investigation into government procurement during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“It is my view that a similar investigation is urgently needed into the reasons why Greensill Capital was accredited to the CLBILS scheme, who was responsible for that decision and to what degree it put public money at risk.”

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