David Cameron’s frantic attempts to lobby for struggling Greensill Capital a year ago included contacting the most senior official in the UK Treasury and sending multiple messages to the deputy governor of the Bank of England.
The latest details of the former prime minister’s lobbying efforts for Greensill, which collapsed last month, emerged as the first of eight inquiries into the scandal opened on Thursday.
Cameron called and texted Sir Tom Scholar, permanent secretary at the Treasury and formerly his international adviser in Downing Street, asking for changes to Covid-19 debt schemes to benefit Greensill. Scholar told the public accounts committee: “If a former minister I’ve worked with asked to talk to me, I would always do that.”
Cameron also directly emailed Sir Jon Cunliffe, the BoE’s deputy governor for financial stability, who was another of his former advisers in Number 10. He asked for Greensill to be included in the bank’s Covid Corporate Financing Facility loan scheme, according to newly released freedom of information responses by the bank.
The pair join a growing list of former colleagues approached in early 2020 by Cameron. The Financial Times first revealed last month that Cameron directly lobbied senior figures in the Treasury and Downing Street on behalf of Greensill.
Greensill admitted it was “coming under significant pressure” because investors had “stopped” buying supply-chain finance investment products, according to minutes from a March 17 2020 call between company founder Lex Greensill, David Cameron and BoE officials.
The bank’s FOI release shows how Cameron said Greensill had the “mandate for the government” to provide supply-chain finance.
In emails also released by the BoE, Cameron complained to Cunliffe that the Treasury was unreceptive to Greensill’s pitch, writing on April 3 last year that after “numerous conversations” it had “failed to get anywhere”.
Scholar said the Treasury was approached “quite persistently” by the company but ultimately resisted its approach. “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,” he said.
He said he handed over the issue to his deputy Charles Roxburgh, who told the committee he had nine calls with the company between March and June last year.
Roxburgh also disclosed for the first time that the discussions involved both Greensill himself and his colleague Bill Crothers, former head of UK government procurement. Their identity was previously redacted in the Treasury’s response to the FT’s FOI requests.
Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, a Conservative committee member, asked Roxburgh why the Treasury spent “so much time” investigating the potential for Greensill’s “dodgy” proposals.
Roxburgh said it was appropriate to look at Greensill’s proposal because “had it proved workable, [it] could have been a way to support a large number of small businesses at a time of crisis”.
The official said he could not have had “perfect foresight” about the fact Greensill would fall into administration in March 2021.
This month the Treasury released two text messages sent by Sunak to Cameron showing the chancellor was “pushing” officials to explore some of Greensill’s proposals.
But Roxburgh told the committee his multiple engagements with Greensill were normal process. “I did not feel under any inappropriate pressure or pushing from the chancellor or economic secretary [junior Treasury minister John Glen],” he said.
The BoE FOI releases showed how Cunliffe, who became deputy governor in 2013, agreed to take weekend calls from Cameron on March 7 2020, before the crisis exploded.
In early April 2020, after the Treasury had authorised the bank to set up the CCFF lending scheme — designed for large non-financial companies — Cameron again lobbied Cunliffe on behalf of Greensill.
In increasingly agitated emails, Cameron argued that the Treasury should change the CCFF rules to allow Greensill to take part, borrow and use the money for supply-chain finance.
“Greensill — who I work with — have had numerous conversations with HMT but have failed to get anywhere,” Cameron wrote on April 2 2020.
By April 22, Cameron emailed again, seeking another call with Cunliffe and complaining that the obstacles put in the path of Greensill were “incredibly frustrating”.
But the official readout of the ensuing call showed BoE officials explaining this was not their problem and the former prime minister and Greensill should talk to the Treasury.
Late on Thursday the Treasury released a further batch of correspondence between Greensill and officials.
One email from Lex Greensill suggested that Mark Sedwill, then the cabinet secretary, had linked the company up with Roxburgh.
Another message — from Roxburgh to Greensill — showed that Greensill Capital was hoping to place over £4bn of assets into the CCFF, eventually rising to over £10bn.