The Treasury’s top civil servant today revealed that David Cameron called and texted him on behalf of Greensill at the height of the pandemic.
Sir Tom Scholar said the former PM contacted him repeatedly in March and April last year as the financial firm pushed to be part of a government loan scheme.
Giving evidence to the Public Accounts Committee, the permanent secretary said: ‘Mr Cameron spoke to me on the telephone… and sent me some text messages.’
Asked whether Mr Cameron had his number because he was the ex-PM, Sir Tom said: ‘Correct. I used to work for him.’
Sir Tom stressed the contacts were on his official mobile phone, which he was using as he was working from home at the time.
Pressed by committee chair Meg Hillier whether he had communicated with Mr Cameron ‘more readily’ because of their connection, the mandarin said: ‘If a former minister that I have worked with asked to talk to me I will always do that.’
He added: ‘When somebody that you know asks to speak to you it is quite natural to accept that.’
Meanwhile, Charles Roxburgh, second permanent secretary at the Treasury, told the hearings he had nine meetings with Greensill.
He stressed that the firm was not given access to the COVID Corporate Finance Facility (CCFF).
Sir Tom Scholar (right) said David Cameron contacted him repeatedly in March and April last year. Charles Roxburgh (left), second permanent secretary at the Treasury, told the hearing he had nine meetings with Greensill
Mr Cameron has been facing a storm for weeks over his lobbying on behalf of Greensill Capital, which collapsed into administration last month
Bank of England reveals David Cameron’s lobbying efforts
Documents released by the Bank of England have shown David Cameron’s lobbying in support of Greensill Capital, the now collapsed financial firm which employed him.
Mr Cameron emailed Sir Jon Cunliffe, the Bank’s deputy governor, on March 5 2020, the first in a series of emails and calls disclosed between the former prime minister, Mr Greensill and Threadneedle Street.
On March 17 Mr Greensill and Mr Cameron held a call with Bank officials to explain Greensill Capital’s supply chain finance operation.
The minutes of the call note that Greensill Capital ‘explained that they were coming under significant pressure in current market conditions’ and called for a re-establishment of the secured commercial paper facility scheme used in the 2009 financial crisis to ‘ease market conditions and protect the supply of working capital to the real economy’.
In April 2020 the correspondence covered Greensill’s attempts to access the Covid Corporate Finance Facility (CCFF) .
On April 3 2020 Mr Cameron wrote to deputy governor Sir Jon Cunliffe ‘to ask for your help’, claiming Greensill had numerous conversations with the Treasury but ‘have failed to get anywhere’.
He said: ‘The request is simple – please include in the CCFF the ability to purchase bonds issued in respect of supply chain finance.’
Mr Cameron claimed this would allow Greensill to ‘pump billions’ into small firms, including every pharmacy working with the NHS.
As his efforts failed to make progress, Mr Cameron wrote on April 22 2020, telling Sir Jon it was ‘incredibly frustrating’.
‘Even a small participation of SCF (supply chain finance – Greensill’s area of activity) in the CCFF would make a big difference in catalysing the market,’ he said.
Mr Cameron has been facing a storm for weeks over his lobbying on behalf of Greensill Capital, which collapsed into administration last month.
He was employed as an adviser and reportedly stood to make significant sums if it had floated.
He went for a ‘social’ drink with Health Secretary Matt Hancock as Greensill pushed for the NHS to use a wage-advance financing service.
Mr Cameron has denied breaking any rules, but conceded he should have made approaches to ministers using more ‘formal’ channels.
Sir Tom told the committee that he believed the Treasury had dealt with the company’s approaches – including from Mr Cameron – in a ‘completely appropriate way’.
‘The call I took from Mr Cameron was not a substantive discussion of the proposal. It was simply a call to draw it to my attention. I said ”Thank you very much, this is something we are looking at. Charles Roxburgh is the person leading on it”.
‘We were approached quite persistently from this company. We listened to what they said. We analysed it, we tested it and in the end, despite them submitting a series of successive proposals, we decided to reject them all.
‘I think that is a completely appropriate way of dealing with the matter.’
The officials were pressed by Tory MP Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown as to why they spent so much time dealing with proposals.
Sir Tom said that at the time – at the start of the pandemic – the Treasury had been under ‘immense pressure’ to do more to support business.
‘Everybody said we were too slow, not doing enough, should be more ambitious, so we were investigating a whole series of ways in which we could support the flow of credit to businesses,’ he said.
Mr Roxburgh said he had a series of nine virtual meetings with the firm’s founder Lex Greensill and Bill Crothers, the former head of government procurement, who had also gone on to join it.
But he said that each of the proposals it put forward had been rejected after consideration by officials.
Mr Roxburgh said the firm’s proposal to join the CCFF had been the rejected because it did not meet the Treasury’s criteria.
‘They were proposing that special purpose vehicles could have access to the scheme and that was not consistent with the scheme’s design,’ he said.
‘They were suggesting that the CCFF should buy commercial paper that had non-standard terms and again that was not consistent with the design.’
Further proposals it put forward to improve the delivery of finance to small businesses active in the supply chains of large companies were, he said, also turned down.
Mr Roxburgh said he had not felt under any ‘inappropriate pressure’ from ministers when considering the applications.
Following the disclosure that Mr Crothers had joined Greensill while still working in Whitehall, Cabinet Secretary Simon Case ordered all senior civil servants to declare if they had outside jobs.
Sir Tom said none had been found in his department.
The PAC is carrying out one of a bewildering range of inquiries into lobbying revelations.
The Treasury Select Committee has ordered Mr Cameron to reveal text messages he sent to Chancellor Rishi Sunak within two weeks.
The PAC is carrying out one of a bewildering range of inquiries into lobbying revelations