Greensill: Treasury releases perm sec’s texts to Cameron

FOI reveals department had to ask former PM for Scholar’s messages because of IT failure
Sir Tom Scholar

By Jim Dunton

22 Jun 2021

HM Treasury has published text messages sent by perm sec Sir Tom Scholar to David Cameron in response to the former PM lobbying on behalf of supply-chain finance firm Greensill Capital.

The brief response to a Freedom of Information Act request paints a picture of a senior civil servant reacting in polite terms to intense lobbying from the former PM last year. Cameron was locked on a mission to win Greensill a place on  the government’s Covid Corporate Financing Facility support scheme; at one stage he described himself and Greensill Capital boss Lex Greensill as “riding to the rescue” of business across the nation.

At a Public Accounts Committee session in April, Scholar acknowledged that Greensill had lobbied the Treasury “quite persistently” in Greensill Capital’s ultimately unsuccessful bid to join the support scheme. The company went into liquidation in March this year.

The just-published messages from Scholar show the perm sec cheerfully responding to Cameron and providing contact details for Sir Jonathan Cunliffe, deputy governor of the Bank of England, who would go on to be lobbied too.

“Lunch would be great. Quite a lot to talk about!” Scholar replied to one message from Cameron before continuing to say he was looking forward to seeing the former PM at an 11 Downing Street leaving party for Bank of England governor Mark Carney later in the month. The event was cancelled as the coronavirvus pandemic took hold.

The disclosed messages reveal an eagerness to please Cameron expressed on the part of Scholar, with references to “happy memories”, renewing “old acquaintances” and a plethora of exclamation marks.

However ultimately, Scholar relates to Cameron that the Treasury has reached a decision on admitting Greensill to the support scheme and that it is “not the one Lex was after”.

Although that message was relayed to Cameron in late March last year, Greensill continued to lobby the Treasury into the summer. Cameron sent around 70 messages on the issue to ministers and senior officials – targeting chancellor Rishi Sunak and Treasury No.2 Charles Roxburgh in addition to Scholar.

Former Treasury perm sec Lord Nick Macpherson told members of parliament’s Treasury Select Committee in April that he believed Greensill Capital had been afforded an “unusual” amount of the department’s time during a period of national crisis.

Last month Cameron told the committee he believed Greensill’s main mistake in its lobbying of government had been that it took too long to refine its proposals to the Treasury.

Locked phone woes
Although Scholar’s text-message responses to Cameron were the result of an FOI request to the Treasury,  they had to be supplied by Cameron to the department. 

The request was originally refused on the grounds that the Treasury did not have access to the perm sec’s text messages from his official mobile phone because it had been locked and then reset when a wrong password was entered at the beginning of June last year. It was originallly suggested that the situation meant that messages before that date could not be retrieved.

The unnamed FOI requester pointed out that Cameron could supply the messages and in its response the Treasury confirmed that this was how Scholar’s texts were obtained. 

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