Are there 22 more Greensills? Fears over lobbying timebomb

Are there 22 more Greensills? Fears of a lobbying timebomb as it emerges group of business chiefs have access to No10

  • More than 20 businessmen and women occupy the same role which allowed Lex Greensill to gain privileged access to Downing Street, it was revealed last night 
  • They are called ‘Crown Representatives’ – leading figures from the private sector
  • They are unpaid, but have access to senior politicians and mandarins 

More than 20 businessmen and women currently occupy the same role which allowed Lex Greensill, the financier at the heart of the David Cameron lobbying row, to gain privileged access to Downing Street, it was revealed last night.

Like Mr Greensill, they are called ‘Crown Representatives’ – leading figures from the private sector brought into the heart of government to offer their expertise in getting value for money for taxpayers.

They are unpaid, but have access to senior politicians and mandarins, and are free to carry on making a fortune in the private industry while having the status almost of a civil servant, attending key meetings and briefings.

The emergence of 22 little-known Crown Representatives with a dual public-private role will add to concerns of a blurring of the line between Whitehall and the commercial world.

Cabinet Secretary Simon Case warned on Wednesday that allowing senior officials to have private-sector second jobs could threaten the ‘integrity and impartiality’ of Whitehall.

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud attends a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin (not pictured) at the Saudi Royal palace in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, 14 October 2019

The row has erupted because Mr Cameron, who brought Mr Greensill into No 10, went on to work for Greensill Capital, which won handsome government contracts for supply-chain finance.

Cameron mandarin in yet another quiz 

The David Cameron mandarin who is under fire for taking a job at Greensill Capital while still working for the government has admitted failing to declare another appointment.

Bill Crothers was last night told by watchdog Lord Pickles that he broke the rules by failing to seek approval for an unpaid role with a professional body after leaving Whitehall.

He has now been reported to Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove for ‘appropriate action’ – which could see him barred from any future honours. Mr Crothers, pictured, told appointments adviser Lord Pickles he had made an ‘honest mistake’ in not declaring he wanted to join the trustees’ board of the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply in 2016, the year after he left his job as Government procurement chief to work full-time for Greensill.

As two more Parliamentary inquiries were launched in the wake of Greensill’s collapse and Mr Cameron’s lobbying for the lender, Lord Pickles told MPs of loopholes which mean not all jobs taken by ex-ministers and civil servants are fully checked.

Calling for a revamp of the rules, the chairman of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba) said his ‘eyebrows raised the full quarter-inch’ when he discovered Mr Crothers had been allowed to become a board adviser to Greensill.

It meant when he left to become full-time director of the firm a year later in 2016 he had not needed to seek approval from Acoba.

Lord Pickles told the public administration committee the position of financier Lex Greensill within No 10 highlighted other ‘anomalies’ in the system, which forces only former ministers and top officials to seek approval for new jobs and only within two years of leaving office.

‘Contractors, consultants, people who arrive and offer assistance… maybe as Mr Greensill did… are not covered at all. I think that needs addressing and… addressing urgently.’

Mr Cameron lobbied four ministers, including Chancellor Rishi Sunak, for Covid funds as Greensill struggled to avoid collapse, which came last month, rendering the former PM’s lucrative share options worthless.

To add to the controversy, the Daily Mail can disclose that one of the key mandarins caught up in the Greensill affair is closely linked to the Crown Representatives scheme.

Bill Crothers, the ex-head of Whitehall procurement who is under fire for taking a job as Greensill Capital director while working as a civil servant, helped recruit some of the Crown Representatives who advise Boris Johnson’s Government.

The project was introduced in 2011 when Mr Cameron was Prime Minister as part of a newly created Crown Commercial Service run by Cabinet Office Minister Lord (Francis) Maude.

In a further twist, the business activities of Lord Maude and his former special adviser, Baroness (Simone) Finn, currently Mr Johnson’s deputy chief of staff, are under scrutiny in the wake of the Greensill scandal. Baroness Finn, who helped Lord Maude run the Crown Representatives scheme, owns 35 per cent of a company set up by Lord Maude, FMAP Ltd, which advises foreign governments on economic and public sector reform.

FMAP, which says Baroness Finn declared her shareholding as required, and has no further involvement in the company, commissioned Mr Crothers as a sub-contractor providing advice on procurement between 2017 and 2019.

Crown Representatives are unpaid; many are distinguished entrepreneurs and citizens and are considered to be providing a public service to their country. But there are other benefits: many proudly proclaim the role in their business profiles and it is not uncommon for them to receive honours.

The Greensill affair is not the first time the Crown Representatives scheme has been questioned.

In 2018, when engineering giant Carillion went bankrupt, leaving many public sector contracts, including half-completed hospitals, in chaos, a committee of MPs called for a review of Crown Representatives for failing to spot the perilous state of the firm. The 22 unpaid Crown Representatives listed on the Cabinet Office website include:

Boris Adlam of Faster Capital, who claims to have ‘financed everything from one-person start-ups to government and multi-nationals across the world. Luc Bardin is an adviser to Japanese car giant Toyota as well as ‘advising the Cabinet Office and Ministry of Defence’, according to his official profile.

Jay Chinnadorai runs high-tech firm Sumtotal and is on the board of Japanese firm Informetis as well advising the Cabinet Office. Meryl Bushell is a former BT executive who runs a ‘consultancy and coaching’ business. Her responsibilities include Capita, which collects the BBC licence fee. There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing by the Crown Representatives. 

‘Brilliant!’ What Boris said when he was told Newcastle deal was back on track 

Boris Johnson’s claim that he didn’t meddle in a Saudi bid to buy a top English football team was in doubt last night after it emerged he said ‘brilliant’ when told the deal was set to go ahead.

The Prime Minister’s jubilant response was to a Downing Street aide who he had asked to intervene after Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman objected to the way a takeover of Newcastle United was blocked last year.

When Mr Johnson’s Downing Street strategist Lord (Eddie) Lister later told him the Newcastle deal may have been rescued, the Prime Minister could hardly contain his enthusiasm.

The exchange came after Mr Johnson contacted Lord Lister last September to ask if attempts to revive the deal, blocked by the English Premier League two months earlier, had succeeded.

The EPL veto had come after human rights protests at the Saudi regime’s suspected role in the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.

‘Any news from Saudi?’ the Prime Minister asked Middle East expert Lord Lister on September 7, according to a well-placed source.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir (2nd-L) sits with his British counterpart Boris Johnson (2nd-R) as they tour the Nassif House in the historic quarter of Jeddah on January 25, 2018

The peer told him: ‘A call is being set up. The Newcastle deal will hopefully be signed this week.’

The PM replied: ‘Brilliant.’

Mr Johnson visited Saudi Arabia in a £14,000 all-expenses-paid trip just two weeks before Mr Khashoggi’s murder. He was a backbench MP at the time.

His reaction is at odds with repeated claims by Downing Street that Mr Johnson did not interfere in the row over the Saudis’ frustrated attempt to buy Newcastle.

The Daily Mail can today reveal that the Prime Minister claimed privately that a Tory donor with close links to the Saudis contacted him over the Newcastle row and appeared to hint at getting a peerage in return for resolving Anglo-Saudi disputes.

This newspaper can also reveal new evidence of the extent of Bin Salman’s fury in his June message to the Prime Minister, with a warning that the UK economy would pay a price.

The Crown Prince said: ‘The kingdom of Saudi Arabia has opened its doors for the UK’s investments in various sectors and initiated a mutually beneficial investment program with large amounts of funding. The EPL’s wrong conclusion will unfortunately have a negative impact on both our countries economic and commercial relations.’

After Mr Johnson told Lord Lister of Bin Salman’s anger, the peer replied: ‘Tell MBS (Mohammad Bin Salman) that I am investigating on your behalf.’

This newspaper disclosed yesterday how Mr Johnson intervened after Bin Salman urged him to ‘correct and reconsider’ the ‘wrong’ decision by the EPL to veto the Saudis’ proposed £300 million takeover of Newcastle.

In his September message to Lord Lister, Mr Johnson said investment banker Ken Costa contacted him over the Newcastle deal and was ‘lobbying’ for a peerage in return for helping him with Anglo-Saudi relations.

Mr Costa, who has given tens of thousands of pounds to the Conservatives and was Theresa May’s envoy to Saudi Arabia, confirmed last night that he backed the Newcastle deal. But he dismissed the suggestion that he had ‘lobbied’ for a peerage as ‘nonsense’.

He told the Mail: ‘There was a long discussion to see what was going on with the Newcastle deal. It was an opportunity for serious investment in the North-East.’

South African-born Mr Costa, 71, is a former chairman of Lazard merchant bank and accompanied then Chancellor Philip Hammond on a trip to Saudi to promote Anglo-Saudi business relations in 2019.

There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing by Mr Costa.

The EPL’s decision to block the Saudi takeover of Newcastle led to protests by North East MPs, and 90,000 Newcastle fans signed a petition calling for an investigation.

In August, Mr Johnson wrote an open letter to the fans, supporting their campaign for the EPL to explain why the bid fell through. He added: ‘Many Newcastle fans were hoping this takeover would go ahead and I can understand their sense of disappointment.’

The Prime Minister said there would be ‘no government involvement’ in a sale of the club, but his intervention was seen by some as siding in favour of the Saudis and against the EPL.

In recent days there has been speculation that the Newcastle bid by the Saudi state-backed Public Investment Fund could go ahead after all.

A deal put together by financier Amanda Staveley and the Reuben brothers was agreed with Newcastle owner Mike Ashley a year ago. The EPL blocked it after the Saudis refused to say if the state would be the ultimate owner.

Yesterday, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said the proposed takeover was a ‘commercial matter’ and the Government ‘was not involved at any point in the takeover talks’.

He added: The Prime Minister asked Lord Lister to check on the progress of the talks as a potential major foreign investment in the UK. He didn’t ask him to intervene.’

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