David Cameron’s former anti-corruption adviser lambasts UK’s lax lobbying rules

Eric Pickles: Greensill controversy was a scandal waiting to happen

Company logo at the entrance to the Greensill Capital (U.K.) Ltd. offices in the Daresbury Park business estate near Warrington, U.K., on Thursday, April 15, 2021. Critics have accused the ruling Conservative party of "sleaze" and called for an overhaul of the U.K.'s lobbying rules after it emerged former premier David Cameron lobbied ministers on behalf of the now insolvent finance firm Greensill Capital. Photographer: Anthony Devlin/Bloomberg
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A former UK anti-corruption adviser and champion for David Cameron called for a register of second jobs for senior civil servants as the lobbying scandal surrounding the former prime minister rumbles on.

Eric Pickles, who heads a body advising on private sector appointments for former ministers, called for urgent reform after the head of the Civil Service launched a review to discover if senior officials were breaking the rules.

“If there isn’t a clear record, I would be extremely worried,” Mr Pickles told a British parliamentary committee on Thursday.

The second jobs review was sparked by news that Bill Crothers, a senior civil servant in charge of procurement, worked part-time for the collapsed finance company Greensill Capital while still on the government payroll.

Investment banker Lex Greensill, who ran the company, worked as an adviser to Mr Cameron.

After leaving the prime ministerial office in 2016, Mr Cameron lobbied for Greensill, sending text messages to the private phone of the UK Finance Minister Rishi Sunak and arranging a private meeting with Health Secretary Matt Hancock, seeking taxpayer funds.

The company’s collapse in March, which put thousands of British jobs at risk, prompted Prime Minister Boris Johnson to order an independent review. The opposition Labour Party wants a wide-ranging inquiry into “sleaze and cronyism” in the top ranks of government.

Mr Pickles told members of Parliament on Thursday that the Greensill affair was a scandal waiting to happen because of lax rules regarding government appointments and second jobs. He said no boundaries between civil servants and the private sector were apparent.

The former minister, who was appointed as Mr Cameron’s anti-corruption champion in 2015, said he was worried that unpaid advisers, such as Mr Greensill, were not subject to proper scrutiny before taking on roles in government.

“I have been worried about the possibility of a scandal with regards to this for some time,” he said.

He said that of the 34,000 people who left the Civil Service in the past year, only 108 were scrutinised by his committee over their next jobs to assess if they could improperly use government contacts to further their careers.

"There is nothing wrong with lobbyists,” he said. “What is wrong is with unregulated lobbying, secret lobbying, and people getting an undue advantage.”

The head of the committee, Conservative MP William Wragg, announced that it would conduct its own inquiry into matters around Greensill.

He said that Mr Cameron’s actions were “tasteless and slapdash”. The former prime minister denied wrongdoing, but said that he should have used official channels to contact Mr Sunak.

The scandal could be particularly damaging for the Conservative Party, which was out of government for more than a decade from 1997 after it was brought low by a succession of personal and financial sleaze scandals.