Boris Johnson is under fresh pressure to launch a parliamentary inquiry into the government’s links with Greensill Capital after it emerged a Whitehall chief took a job with the firm.
Bill Crothers joined the company’s board in 2015 and did not step down as Whitehall’s chief procurement officer until 2016.
Two years later, in 2018, Greensill – founded by the Australian financier Lex Greensill – was involved in running a contract won by the US software firm Taulia to provide “supply chain finance” to NHS pharmacies.
According to reports in the FT and Times, vital transparency checks by the official watchdog, the advisory committee on business appointments (Acoba), were bypassed.
Former Tory minister Eric Pickles, who chairs Acoba, has written to Whitehall bosses demanding answers, noting Crothers “considered additional advice was unnecessary” and instead followed Cabinet Office “internal” processes.
The watchdog is supposed to vet any private sector appointments taken by former ministers and senior civil servants within two years of leaving their posts.
The government has already been facing questions over ex-PM David Cameron’s links with Greensill when he was prime minister and subsequent lobbying on its behalf after he left office.
Labour’s shadow Cabinet Office minister Rachel Reeves called the news “an extraordinary and shocking revelation”.
She said: “The Conservatives have weakened the rules so much they may as well rip them up and start again.
“They must be kidding themselves if they think the current checks and measures they’ve got in place are working.
“They need to strengthen rules now and get everything about the Greensill scandal out in the open with a proper parliamentary inquiry.”
Since 2018, Greensill has filed for insolvency after failing to secure support through the government’s Covid corporate financing facility. Its collapse threatens thousands of jobs in Liberty Steel.
In a letter to the cabinet secretary Simon Case, shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds and Reeves called for a “full, transparent and thorough investigation” into Greensill’s links with the Conservative government.
“The irresponsible behaviour of Greensill Capital and its almost unparalleled access to the heart of government raises serious questions about what kind of businesses the government is engaging with,” they said.
The latest claims came after Labour said it had been handed a business card dating from Greensill’s time working as an adviser in the Cabinet Office, describing him as a senior adviser in the prime minister’s office.
The card, which was said to have been given to an industry figure in 2012 shortly after Greensill became an unpaid adviser on supply chain finance issues, included a Downing Street telephone number and email address.
After he left office, Cameron became an adviser to Greensill Capital, and reportedly personally lobbied chancellor Rishi Sunak for cash support for the firm through the Covid Corporate Financing Facility.
He took the job two years after leaving No 10 and therefore it did not require the approval of Acoba.
Asked about Cameron’s approach, Sunak told ITV News: “I think it’s important that, whoever people are, whether they’re prime ministers or anyone else, that they follow the rules and the guidelines that we have in place for lobbying.
“We have the rules in place for good reason. And I think whoever you are, it’s important processes are appropriately followed.”
Prime minister Boris Johnson, meanwhile, has failed to back a parliamentary inquiry into government links with Greensill but has committed to a review of how the company was able to secure government contracts.
The independent probe will be led by lawyer Nigel Boardman.
Johnson told broadcasters on Tuesday, it will be given the “maximum possible access” to those involved.
“I’ve asked Nigel Boardman to have a look at this whole issue of supply chain finance and given him pretty much carte blanche to ask anybody whatever he needs to find out,” Johnson said.
“I would like it to be done quickly, but I want him to have the maximum possible access so we can all understand exactly what has happened, and that will of course be presented to parliament in due course.”