Ministers cannot scapegoat Jeremy Heywood for Greensill, his widow warns

Francis Maude wrong to say he appointed Lex Greensill to avoid "a fight" with ex-cab sec, Suzanne Heywood says
Ex-Cabinet Office minister gave evidence to PACAC on the Greensill lobbying scandal this week. Screenshot: Parliament TV

Former ministers and officials should not try to scapegoat late cabinet secretary Jeremy Heywood for the controversial appointment of Lex Greensill as a government adviser, his widow has warned.

In a letter to the Financial Times, Suzanne Heywood said comments made by ex-Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude and former top officials that appeared to place the blame for Greensill’s appointment squarely at her late husband’s feet “cannot be left unanswered”, as the Greensill Capital lobbying scandal rolls on. 

In particular, Lady Heywood took issue with Lord Maude telling the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee that he had approved the appointment of the supply chain finance firm’s founder to avoid “a fight” with the then-cab sec.

“As the minister responsible, if he agreed to the appointment, he should take responsibility for it,” Heywood wrote.

She also criticised Bill Crothers – whose position as a part-time adviser to Greensill Capital overlapped with his civil service post as chief commercial officer for three months in 2015 – for saying Jeremy Heywood was a “clear influence on me deciding to join [Greensill’s] company and become a director”.

She said it appeared that anyone watching the evidence session was supposed to come away with the conclusion that Maude, Crothers, and ex-civil service chief exec and first commissioner Sir John Manzoni and Sir Ian Watmore, who also gave evidence, “really had nothing to do with anything, at any point”.

“Rather, it was all down to Jeremy Heywood, who is no longer with us to put his side of the story,” she wrote.

“Your readers will make up their own minds about this. But I can say without hesitation that were Jeremy here today, he would not be blaming anyone else, alive or not, for actions he had taken, and he would trust others to abide by the same standards.”

Heywood’s letter was published a day after the more than three-hour evidence session, at which Maude appeared keen to distance himself from Lex Greensill – saying that while he had approved a three-month appointment as a supply chain adviser in January 2015, he did not recall doing so.

“I have been told that I authorised it as well, but I have to say I have absolutely no recollection of it. I believe this and I only know this from documents I have seen giving evidence to the Boardman inquiry [into supply chain finance in government],” he told the MPs. 

He later added: “Looking back and thinking back, I can see why I would have agreed a temporary three-month thing to test it out. I respected Jeremy Heywood greatly... If Jeremy said, ‘There is something in this. I think you should look at it,’ at a time when I think it is fair to say Jeremy and I weren’t agreeing about everything and I did not want to have a fight with him unnecessarily.”

Maude said Heywood had first introduced him to Greensill before becoming cabinet secretary in 2012, telling him at the time: “[Greensill] is a very clever guy who is going to help you to save lots of money. What he is proposing is completely consistent with what you are trying to do.”

Maude said: “One of the things... they wanted to talk to me about was supply chain finance and I didn’t get it. I could not see how this was something that was going to be useful for us.

“I could not see how Jeremy’s contention that this would save the government a lot of money stacked up, because it is kind of rule 101 of finance that nobody can provide finance more cheaply than a triple-A-rated government, which was what we were, and so if we wanted to advance money through our supply chain, and there were good reasons for doing that, the best way to do it was for us to do it ourselves.”

Maude said Greensill was initially appointed for three months “as an unpaid consultant rather than as a civil servant” to work with Efficiency and Reform Group, which was planning and implementing his reforms to the civil service.

“It became increasingly clear that there wasn’t anything in it to help us to do what we were trying to do, which was to save the government money,” Maude said – later adding that officials in the group “did share that view”.

While he rubber-stamped Greensill’s initial three-month appointment, Maude said he did not approve an extension that saw the businessman stay in the Cabinet Office beyond that point.

Greensill’s ill-defined appointment raised eyebrows when a business card describing him as “senior adviser, Prime Minister’s Office” emerged earlier this year. A business contact passed the card onto the Labour Party, saying Greensill had handed it to them in 2012.

Maude said he “wasn’t really aware” of Greensill’s position after the initial three-month post. “I would occasionally hear references to the fact that Lex Greensill still had some kind of role in the Cabinet Office, but I believe it was in the EDS—the Economic and Domestic Secretariat—which did not come within my purview at all,” he told the MPs.

Asked if he could explain what Greensill’s appointment status was – given that No.10 has said he was not a special adviser – Maude said: “No, I cannot. I have absolutely no idea at all.”

And he said it was “certainly not” normal for Greensill, as an unpaid adviser, to be given a No.10 business card.

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