Chair of watchdog which exposed civil servant’s Greensill role not seen ‘anything like it’

The chair of the watchdog which exposed how the former government chief commercial officer was able to take a job at Greensill Capital while still working in Whitehall has said he’s "not really come across anything like it before".

Lord Pickles’ Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba) revealed how Bill Crothers worked as a part-time adviser at Greensill for the last three months he was at the Civil Service.

And on Wednesday, he gave evidence to the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) amid "acute concern" over the affair, which has seen the government accused of a "return to Tory sleaze".

He told the hearing: "It’s fair to say, to misquote PG Wodehouse, my eyebrows did raise the full quarter inch when I heard about it," he told the committee.

"I have been involved in public service a long time and I have not really come across anything like it before."

Lord Pickles said it was not unusual for civil servants to have second jobs, but "certainly not at this level".

"If Mr Crothers had wanted a milk round," he said, "I don’t think we would have been terribly worried, but his particular position in terms of running procurement and working for a commercial organisation, is something that does require a full and transparent explanation."

Mr Crothers had been the government’s chief procurement officer prior to being taken on by Greensill.

Lord Pickles, a former Conservative cabinet minister, added: "Part of the problem we have got is that it has not been clear where the boundaries lay.

"In fact, I hope this does not seem rude – there does not seem to have been any boundaries at all."

There also appears to be confusion over Mr Greensill‘s role, the hearing was told.

He does not seem to have been a special adviser, Lord Pickles said, but the financier had a business card describing himself as a "No 10 adviser".

If he had been a Special Adviser (known as a SPAD) he would have been covered by the remit of Acoba, but as a "No 10 adviser" he was not.

Lord Pickles said he believed the public had a right to know when and why the Cabinet Office approved, or not, applications for second roles.

He said: "I would expect it to be recorded in a register. I would have expected that register to be transparent. I would have expected the rules to be known.

"So far as I know, the rules have never been published. Therefore, I have asked them to publish the rules – this is not a satisfactory situation."

The government’s links with collapsed finance firm Greensill Capital first came under scrutiny following disclosures that Mr Cameron personally lobbied Chancellor Rishi Sunak on the company’s behalf – and was able to arrange for its founder, Lex Greensill, to have a "private drink" with Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

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