Senior civil servants have been asked, by the end of the week, to declare paid roles or outside interests that could conflict with civil service rules.
The move comes after it emerged that civil servant Bill Crothers joined financial firm Greensill Capital while still working for the government.
Crothers himself claims his recruitment by Greensill Capital was transparent. But last month Crothers’ 2016 appointment as a director of Greensill came under scrutiny because it had been made without the involvement of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments.
This watchdog, currently chaired by Lord Eric Pickles, scrutinises new appointments sought by former ministers and top civil servants for two years after they leave office to ensure individuals are not seeking to benefit from privileged information.
Newly published correspondence between Cabinet Office permanent secretary Alex Chisholm and Pickles stated that Crothers was cleared by an internal departmental process to take up an advisory role with Greensill in 2015 while he was still a civil servant and did not need new clearance in 2016 after he left the civil service.
Pickles told Chisholm: “This was agreed by the Cabinet Office under its internal conflicts of interest policy. The Cabinet Office confirmed that as the government’s rules relate to new appointments or employment, an application would only be required for new appointments, or if a role substantially changed.”
But Prime Minister Boris Johnson told MPs on Wednesday it was unclear that “boundaries have been properly understood”.
Crothers had been the government’s chief procurement officer before being recruited by Greensill, which has since collapsed.
Revelations about the firm’s attempts to influence government have led the Prime Minister to launch a lawyer-led review into its access to ministers and civil servants, although Labour had sought the creation of a special House of Commons committee to investigate instead.
Cabinet secretary Simon Case – the UK’s top civil servant – said there were issues of “acute concern” over recruitment and asked colleagues to declare by the end of the week if they had “come across” instances of senior civil servants with second jobs or outside interests “which might conflict with their obligations under the [civil service] code”. This sets outs the rules on honesty, integrity, objectivity and impartiality.
Earlier this week, Dave Penman, the head of the FDA union for senior civil servants, told the Guardian that the inquiry into the Greensill-David Cameron lobbying scandal, chaired by Nigel Boardman, would try to deflect attention away from government ministers Rishi Sunak, Matthew Hancock, Jesse Norman and John Glen. He said it “smacks of a classic attempt to deflect attention from current ministers and how they responded to Cameron’s lobbying”.
He said, instead, that the inquiry would focus on the conduct of civil servants. “There is no detail of whether it will look at the specific allegations around [Cameron’s] lobbying of ministers,” he added.
Answering questions from MPs on the public administration and constitutional affairs committee, Pickles today said: “Every government for the past 20-25 years – it is true of Lady Thatcher, true of Major, certainly true of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown – were all seeking to get people into civil service with business experience. So I understand how we got to these circumstances, but I don’t think it excuses the final result.”
He said he’d been warning of a scandal for some time because there were so many areas of lobbying not under scrutiny. He said: “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.”
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