The Hound

Greensill scandal sucking in Francis Maude and Boris’s deputy chief of staff

As the fall out from David Cameron’s amateurish lobbying for Greensill Capital continues to rain down, the number of questions to be answered about the murky web of relations between civil servants, Tory ministers, their advisers and big business, grows by the hour. 

The latest to be snared is the government’s former chief commercial officer, Bill Crothers, who appeared to be an innocuous bureaucrat operating in the bowels of Whitehall. It transpired that Crothers also joined Lex Greensill’s Australian finance company while still working for the government.

What’s more, Crothers’ part-time position had been “agreed” by the Cabinet Office in 2015. In response to questions over his Greensill role, Crothers has said: “I had no reason to avoid making an application for Greensill, as it was a small company, operating in Australia, US and the UK, and had no business with the UK public sector, and continued to not have until 2018.”

The Treasury Committee has today launched an inquiry into the Greensill scandal.

One of the questions to be asked is whether it was Lord Maude, the Cabinet minister during the period of May 2010 to May 2015, who gave that clearance? Or was it Matt Hancock, now health secretary, who became Cabinet Office minister after Maude in May 2015? The permanent secretary at the time was John Manzoni who would – or should – have been responsible for giving approval.

Crothers left the civil service in November 2015, some months after taking up his role at Greensill, becoming a board advisor in 2016. In December 2016, Crothers applied to the Office of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments to ask for permission to work as a subcontractor to Lord Maude at Francis Maude Associates (FMA) so that he could provide “procurement and commercial advice to help FMA advise overseas governments on how to improve the way they buy services and products and/or to manage contracts better.” His first assignment was for the Australian government. The committee gave him clearance, so long as he did not use privileged information during his work. 

Another question is whether it was also under the watch of Lord Maude – as Cabinet Office minister – that in 2011 Lex Greensill was given full access to No 10, an office and a printed card claiming to be an adviser. Maude was leading the charge on government efficiency and innovation so would certainly have known of his appointment and, by rights, would have been in a position to approve or disapprove.

According to Labour, the No 10 stamped calling card was given by Greensill to a businessman in the summer of 2012, after he had started being an unpaid adviser on business financing. It is now known that Greensill was introduced to Matt Hancock, health minister, Dido Harding, former head of test and trace and now head of the National Institute for Health Protection, and Simon Stevens, head of NHS England. Greensill later won the contract to run part of the NHS payroll and pharmacies – the scheme has since been nationalised.

So far, the Prime Minister has distanced himself from his predecessor’s antics, having launched a probe headed by legal-beagle, Nigel Boardman, into Cameron’s Greensill role and the wider issue of lobbying. In contrast, Labour is demanding a proper cross-party investigation. This demand was defeated in the Commons today.

However, it might help to focus the PM’s attention on the growing scandal to know that the Maude tentacles reach directly into No 10 itself. 

The PM’s own deputy chief of staff, Baroness Finn, was one of the co-founders of FMA (where Crothers consulted) with Francis Maude and worked there until she was appointed by Johnson (some would say by Carrie Symonds to whom she is close) earlier this year. Maude set up FMA in November 2017. Finn was appointed to the company at the same time.

Simone Finn is also a one-time girlfriend of Michael Gove, now the Cabinet Office supremo. Finn, who was also appointed a non-executive director of the Cabinet Office last year, worked as a special adviser to Maude between 2010 and 2015 where she helped design and push forward a programme of Whitehall reform. On his FMA website, Maude boasts how, while in the Cabinet Office and advised by Finn, he led the Efficiency and Reform Group which slashed £52 billion from the government’s costs.

Another member of the new No 10 inner circle is Henry Newman, who used to run Open Europe, and is also close to Gove. He also worked with Finn as a special adviser to Maude and is now her assistant at No 10. Johnson’s team could easily be dragged into Cameron’s mess. MPs on the Treasury select committee will certainly have questions to ask of those in Number 10 about who knew what and when on Greensill.

AstraZeneca to Oz – company flew 700,000 vaccines to Australia

Extraordinary revelations from the Sydney Morning Herald. A stockpile of Oxford-AstraZeneca orders has been secretly flown from Britain to Australia – 700,000 vaccines in fact. The move was kept under wraps by Whitehall and Aussie officials to prevent a backlash from the European Union after it prepared export bans on vaccine orders last month. 

It was also kept secret to prevent an angry backlash from Brits, it seems.

The Aussies are in stage two of its four-phase inoculation programme but have fallen massively behind their targets, having administered fewer than a million jabs. Scott Morrison, the nation’s prime minister, has levelled the blame at Brussels. However, questions are being asked of Morrison’s administration about the lack of contingency planning.

Now, following last night’s press conferences into blood clots cases by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and European Medicines Agency (EMA), Canberra has “recalibrated” its plans and announced that Pfizer will be preferred to Oxford-AstraZeneca for adults under 50.

The AZ shipment comes at a tricky moment, with the UK government looking to reduce dependency on European supply chains for the delivery of vaccines but racing to increase British production and finishing capacity. The UK government issues very little information about supply levels or delivery times, citing commercial confidentiality. This has served Whitehall well, so far. But if there is now a delay – a combination of restricting AZ use and a time lag on supplies of other vaccines – then Number 10 will come under pressure to provide clear explanations and detail the implications.

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