'Unclear' what Lex Greensill was doing in No.10, senior civil servants say

Simon Case says he was "alarmed" he had almost no information on businessman's role
Photo: mundissima / Alamy Stock Photo

Cabinet secretary Simon Case said he is alarmed Australian businessman Lex Greensill had a Downing Street pass but no official job contract, and it is unknown what he was doing there.

Greensill, who wrote on his own business card that he was "senior adviser, PM's Office", was granted a security pass under then-prime minister David Cameron, which was signed off by former minister Francis Maude and former permanent secretary at the Cabinet Office Ian Watmore. 

Cameron went on to work for Greensill once he had left government and has been at the centre of a lobbying scandal since it emerged he had tried to secure finance for Greensill Capital by lobbying the Treasury during the pandemic. 

The requests for funding were ultimately turned down but since then questions have been raised over Cameron's contact with senior government figures, including Chancellor Rishi Sunak, via text message. 

Giving evidence to the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, Case was asked if he was "alarmed" that he had almost no information on why Greensill had been installed in Downing Street in 2012. 

He said: "Yes". 

Darren Tierney, director general of propriety and ethics at the Cabinet Office, told the committee Greensill was not a special adviser and that “his exact status is unclear”/

"We've been unable to find a contract. What we've found so far is an appointment letter and subsequent reappointment letter," Tierney said. 

"He was given a pass and IT for the Cabinet Office, and a pass subsequently for No.10," he said. 

PACAC member David Jones, a Conservative MP, suggested Greensill would have acquired information at Downing Street, which he could have been helpful to him in offering commercial services to the government.

Asked: "Doesn't it look like a screaming, glaring conflict of interest?" Tierney replied: "Yes it does".

Tierney said he did not think that Greensill, which collapsed in March, had any government contracts until 2018.

Questions over Downing Street flat refurb costs

During the PACAC evidence session, Case refused to rule out Johnson using a private donation to pay for the costly refurbishment of his Downing Street flat, and said civil servants had been working on setting up a trust to support the residence.

He said the prime minister had asked him to conduct a review into how the work was paid for, after a series of briefings and counter-claims.

The cost of the flat refurbishment has been under the spotlight again since Cummings claimed in his blog post that the PM wanted party donors to “secretly pay” for the work, and described the proposition as potentially “unethical, foolish and possibly illegal”.

It has been confirmed Johnson has now “personally met” the £58,000 costs.

Case told the MPs that “all of this will be declared in the proper way”, and Johnson “will make relevant declarations”.

Case also told MPs today that work had been underway in Whitehall for more than 12 months on a scheme to create a trust to pay for the upkeep of the Downing Street residences.

He went on to explain: “Lord Brownlow agreed to be chair of a putative trust. There was work done to identify cross-party potential trustees.”

Brownlow is a former vice-chairman of the Conservative Party.

Case said: “On the trust itself, when I became aware with this earlier this year, along with Alex Chisolm, the accounting officer [and permanent secretary] for the Cabinet Office – although other officials had been working on it before – we’ve actually been looking at this question in much more detail, of how a trust could work. Building on the models from elsewhere.”

He said such a trust would “build on models” used elsewhere. He noted that Chequers, the PM’s country residence, and the chancellor’s grace-and-favour country residence, Dorneywood, are supported by trusts. The upkeep of the White House in the United States follows a similar model.

Asked if he was aware of any private donations being used to cover the cost of refurbishing the flats at Downing Street, Case said: “So what I'm happy to tell you is that the prime minister has asked me to conduct a review, because I was not been involved directly in this.”

Asked again to give a “straightforward 'yes' or 'no'” as to whether he was “aware whether or not any private donations have been used,” Case replied: “As I said, the prime minister has asked me to conduct a review into how this has been done and asked that I share the details of those conclusions with the committee.”

When asked about the renovations while on the campaign trail in Wrexham this morning, Johnson did not deny discussing using donations to fund the work. He said: "If there's anything to be said about that, any declaration to be made, that will, of course, be made in due course.”

Kate Proctor is the political editor and Alain Tolhurst is chief reporter of CSW's sister title PoliticsHome, where a version of this story first appeared.

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