Government watchdog hints at further ‘corrosive’ allegations amid lobbying scandal

Watchdog chief Lord Evans said that a number of allegations of ministerial misconduct haven’t been fully investigated

Joanna Taylor
Saturday 17 April 2021 15:33
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<p>The offices of the collapsed finance firm Greensill Capital in Warrington, England</p>

The offices of the collapsed finance firm Greensill Capital in Warrington, England

Government ministers’ financial ties to private companies should be scrutinised more closely, the head of the Committee on Standards in Public Life has said, in the light of the Greensill Capital lobbying scandal.

Lord Evans, who chairs the watchdog monitoring standards among holders of public office, said that “a number of allegations” in the past year “haven’t been completely investigated”, adding that it could prove “very corrosive” if such cases are left unresolved.

He also highlighted the fact that the post of independent adviser to the prime minister on ministerial interests has been left vacant since November, following the resignation of Sir Alex Allan, and that – even when the role is fulfilled – such advisers don’t have the power to launch investigations.

“At the moment they have to wait to be asked, and that means the perception might be that this is not as independent a role as it might be,” Lord Evans said during BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour.

“I think there's an opportunity there to modernise this role and to ensure that [its holder is] able to allay public concerns as they arise.”

Sir Alex stepped down from his post after prime minister Boris Johnson stood by home secretary Priti Patel in the wake of a report authored by the independent adviser which described Patel’s conduct towards members of the civil service as “behaviour that can be described as bullying”.

Other government officials have also demanded greater oversight of ministerial interests after revelations that former prime minister David Cameron lobbied ministers including chancellor Rishi Sunak and health secretary Matt Hancock on behalf of his employer, Greensill Capital, via texts, emails and “private drinks” events.

Former cabinet secretary Lord Wilson suggested that ministers should be banned from lobbying on behalf of companies who are paying them, and joined calls for the prime minister’s independent adviser to be “given the power to initiate investigations”.

In a letter to The Times, he wrote that lobbying is “an inevitable part of public life” but added that there must be “no hint of hint of corruption, no suggestion of cosy deals without due process, no suspicion of 'old boy' networks.

“Although it is difficult to legislate for morality, the Greensill and other affairs now emerging certainly suggest a need to toughen our safeguards. Greater openness is important,” he wrote, adding that he would “ban any former minister or senior official from lobbying government on behalf of any business that was paying them in whatever capacity”.

At least three parliamentary committees are set to launch inquiries into the lobbying scandal – which Labour described as evidence of “cronyism” within the government – including the National Audit Office, which will examine Greensill Capital’s involvement in coronavirus support schemes prior to its collapse last month.

Mr Johnson has also announced an internal government probe, with corporate lawyer Nigel Boardman expected to report back to him with his findings by June.

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