Watchdog sets out ‘concern’ over Crothers’s Greensill job

"Neither the appointment nor the process for managing conflicts was transparent," Eric Pickles says
Bill Crothers Photo: Photoshot/Niklas Halle'n

The head of the government’s anti-corruption watchdog has voiced “significant concern” over how former civil service chief commercial officer Bill Crothers ended up working for Greensill Capital while still a civil servant. 

In a letter to Cabinet Office permanent secretary Alex Chisholm, Advisory Committee on Business Appointments chair Lord Eric Pickles said neither the appointment of Crothers as a Greensill director nor the process for managing conflicts at the time was transparent enough.

Crothers’s Greensill role – which overlapped with this CCO job by three months – has come under scrutiny in the midst of a scandal involving intense lobbying of ministers and top civil servants by former prime minister David Cameron.

Crothers was appointed as a director of the supply-chain finance firm in 2016, without Acoba’s involvement.

Asked to give further details about the appointment and rules about civil servants’ interests, Chisholm pointed Pickles to a letter sent to the Public Accounts Committee by cabinet secretary Simon Case. In it, Case set out the process of managing conflicts of interest, which include requiring officials to declare private interests, determining whether these align with the civil service code, and requiring officials to obtain permission before taking up a second job.

Responding to Chisholm on 14 May, Pickles said the “lack of transparency” around Crothers’s appointment “remains a significant concern here”.

“Mr Crothers was advised that he could take up an outside role whilst he remained in office – in line with the process set out in your letter and by the cabinet secretary. Yet, neither the appointment, nor the process for managing conflicts, was transparent,” he wrote.

“This means there was no publicly available information to demonstrate: if potential conflicts were considered and if any action was taken to mitigate any potential risks to the integrity of government; nor why an application to Acoba was not considered necessary.”

He said the Crothers case raised the “critical question” of whether the government would be willing to improve transparency around the process.

To deliver that transparency, the government would have to put in place a “clear, published, policy demonstrating how the integrity of decision making in office and any access to sensitive information (whether commercial/regulatory or policy related) in government service is protected” where there are conflicts of interest, he said.

And the government must also publish a register of interests for senior civil servants and special advisers, modelled on the approach used to monitor the outside interests of departmental board members, he added.

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