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David Cameron indicates he could give evidence to MPs’ inquiry into Greensill lobbying

Treasury Select Committee has launched a probe into collapsed financial firm

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
@ashcowburn
Thursday 15 April 2021 09:19
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David Cameron has indicated he is prepared to give evidence to MPs on the Greensill lobbying scandal as the government continues to face questions over links to the now collapsed financial firm and the “revolving door” with businesses.

It comes after the Treasury Select Committee announced on Wednesday it would mount an inquiry — separate to the one launched by Boris Johnson’s government — which is expected to investigate ministers’ responses to the lobbying by the former Tory prime minister.

Mr Cameron, who joined Greensill Capital in a paid role as special adviser in 2018, two years after leaving No 10, was found to have sent text messages and emails to ministers, including the chancellor Rishi Sunak, in an effort to exert influence within government.

Raising the prospect of the MPs’ inquiry hearing from Mr Cameron among its witnesses, a spokesperson for the former prime minister told the BBC he would “respond positively” to requests to give evidence “when the terms of reference of each inquiry are clear”.

Amid scrutiny over the extent of lobbying in government, it was also reported a senior member of the government’s lobbying watchdog — the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba) — runs his own firm advertising access to ministers.

According to the i newspaper, Andrew Cumpsty acts as director the firm Cumpsty Communications, which has been registered with the Office of the Registrar of Consultant Lobbyists since 2016 and claims to deliver the “very best communications, stakeholder engagement, and government relations advice and support”.

The newspaper said Mr Cumpsty declined to answer questions over whether his lobbying connections meant he should step down from Acoba — the body which considers applications under the businesses appointment rules about new jobs for former ministers and senior civil servants once they have left public office.

The Independent has contacted Mr Cumpsty, but the Cabinet Office defended his appointment saying:“Mr Cumpsty was appointed to the committee following an open competition and chosen precisely because of his experience in local government and in public affairs.

“The committee needed insight on how the public affairs industry works to help regulate the business appointment process, alongside other members with their own skill sets. His interests are transparently declared on the gov.uk website.”

But in response to report, Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, said: “Sorry for the unparliamentary language, but this is taking the pi**”.On Wednesday, senior civil servants were also ordered by the cabinet secretary Simon Case to reveal any outside work they may be doing after it emerged earlier this week that the former head of government procurement, Bill Crothers, was able to take a position as a part time adviser at Greensill while still working in Whitehall.

In a letter to permanent secretaries, Mr Case said the disclosures were of “acute concern” and stressed the need for the civil service to “engage fully” with the review commissioned by Mr Johnson by the senior lawyer Nigel Boardman.

Eric Pickles, the chair of Acoba who revealed that Mr Crothers was working for the financial firm while remaining a civil servant, is set to give evidence to MPs on Thursday at the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC).

Sir David Normington, the former top civil servant at the Home Office, said he was “absolutely amazed” that Mr Crothers was permitted to work as a part-time adviser at now collapsed financial firm while still in Whitehall. 

“Well, actually, when I heard it, I thought it was absolutely baffling,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “I’ve never come across anything like it in my over 40 years in Whitehall.

“I know Simon Case is checking whether there are any other similar cases — I would be very surprised if there were. I was absolutely amazed that Bill Crothers should be allowed to work for Greensill while he was still in the civil service. But worse, I think, this enable him to evade scrutiny of his appointment after he had left the civil service, and that is completely unacceptable.”

Tackling Mr Johnson over the row at prime minister’s questions, Sir Keir Starmer said an “overhaul of the whole broken system” was needed, adding: “The Greensill scandal is just the tip of the iceberg.He said financier Lex Greensill was brought into the government as an adviser by Mr Cameron, before hiring the former prime minister to act as a lobbyist contacting cabinet ministers including the chancellor and health secretary Matt Hancock.

There was a “revolving door, indeed an open door, between this Conservative government and paid lobbying”, Sir Keir said.

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