Today’s big question

Are crown representatives the next ‘lobbying timebomb’?

Links between private business and government officials come under increasing scrutiny

More than 20 powerful figures in the world of business hold the same role that allowed Lex Greensill privileged access to senior government ministers, it has emerged.

Greensill, the Australian supply-chain financier, was given special access to the heart of government through his role as a “crown representative”, a scheme set up by David Cameron’s government in 2011.

However, with the fallout from the Greensill Capital lobbying scandal continuing to emerge, the role of the previously little-known crown representatives has given rise to fears that they could be at the heart of the next “lobbying timebomb”, the Daily Mail reports.

Who are they?

Crown representatives are “leading figures from the private sector” who were “brought into the heart of government to offer their expertise in getting value for money for taxpayers” on government projects, the Mail reports. 

The often part-time roles were introduced in 2011 as part of a “new approach for how government engages with its key strategic suppliers”, according to the government’s website. Crown representatives work within the Cabinet Office and take the lead on relationships with large suppliers across the government, the site adds, acting as a “single point of contact” for companies looking to work with the public sector.

As part of the role, which is unpaid, crown representatives have access to senior politicians and government officials, as well as attending key meetings and briefings. Their status is “almost that of a civil servant”, the Mail says, yet unlike civil servants they are still able to “carry on making a fortune in private industry” while holding the role. 

There are 22 crown representatives currently working for the government. They include: Boris Adlam, of investment firm Faster Capital; Luc Bardin, an adviser to motoring giant Toyota; Jay Chinnadorai, who runs technology company Sumtotal; and Meryl Bushell, a former BT executive. 

While there is no suggestion of any wrongdoing by the current crop of crown representatives, the emergence of 22 little-known figures who are granted “a dual public-private role” has added to “concerns of a blurring of the line between Whitehall and the commercial world”, the paper adds.

Greensill 2.0?

Links between ministers, government officials and private firms have come under increasing scrutiny following further revelations in the Greensill lobbying scandal.

A string of senior civil servants worked for the now-collapsed financial firm Greensill while also working in Whitehall. They include the government’s chief commercial officer, Bill Crothers, who joined Greensill while remaining a part-time civil servant in a move sanctioned by the Cabinet Office. 

A second civil servant, David Brierwood, was recruited to join the Greensill board as a director two months after being appointed as a Cabinet Office adviser to Cameron’s government in 2014, The Guardian reports. He held both roles for three and a half years, “raising further questions over revolving doors between the government and the scandal-hit firm”, says the paper. 

The former commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Lord Hogan-Howe, was also “a paid adviser to the collapsed lender at the centre of a lobbying scandal” while at the same time “working at the heart of Whitehall”, The Telegraph says.

Lord Hogan-Howe, who retired from the Met Police in 2017, became a non-executive director of the Cabinet Office in May 2020, says the paper. At the same time he revealed his role as a consultant to a subsidiary of Greensill.  

The role means he was on “the board overseeing officials” while they “invited bids for a four-year, £80m contract” to provide the pubic sector with the financing Greensill specialised in, the paper adds.

Cabinet Secretary Simon Case has warned that allowing senior officials to have private-sector second jobs could threaten the “integrity and impartiality” of Whitehall. And Nick Davies, programme director at the Institute for Government, told The Guardian that the revelation about Brierwood had raised further questions about the inadequacy of impartiality rules at the heart of government.

“Crown representatives play an important role managing the relationship between government and key suppliers,” Davies said. “Whether or not individuals breached the rules, Greensill clearly thought it would benefit from hiring a network of people with senior positions in the Cabinet Office.

“The inadequacy of current rules means that we can’t be sure whether government decisions have been shaped through private channels by those with a financial interest in the outcome,” Davies added.

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