This note summarises developments from around April 2021.
The Institute for Government published Finding the Right Skills for the Civil Service in April 2021. It had lots of good analysis and good suggestions, of which perhaps my favourite was that managers needed to be more accountable for developing their teams. (It was of course depressing that such a report needed to be written, as most if not all of the recommendations could have been made (and probably were made) at frequent intervals over previous decades. )
A 'modern' approach to the recruitment of senior No.10 officials hit the headlines in and after April 2021. The initial cause was the discovery that previous PM David Cameron had lobbied on behalf of Greensill Capital after leaving office. Greensill Capital was subsequently declared insolvent threatening large numbers of jobs, including in Sanjeev Gupta's GFG Alliance/Liberty steel, whose own financial arrangements looked odd, to say the least.
It then transpired that:
- Lex Greensill had been introduced to Cameron by previous Cabinet Secretary Jeremy Heywood who had spent around three years in the financial sector after leaving and before returning to government. Sir Jeremy, as he was then, was keen on innovation and on improving the flow of good people from the private sector to the civil service, and vice versa.
- Mr Greensill did not have a contract but was nevertheless given a Downing Street pass, email and internet access, and allowed to describe himself as an adviser within No.10.
- It has been reported that his presence in No.10 was approved by Clare Sumner who left in 2014 to take up policy roles at the BBC.
- Ex-private sector and HMG's Chief Commercial Officer Bill Crothers (paid c.£140k pa) also worked part-time for Greensill in the months before his leaving the civil service - to join Greensill. He also had a large financial stake in Greensill.
- Crothers argued that such arrangements were 'not uncommon' but this was subsequently shown to be untrue. There were fewer than 100 civil servants who hold paid employment outside the public sector alongside their civil service roles, and these were roles like tutoring and yoga instructors and sport instructors which did not conflict with officials' obligations under the Civil Service Code.
- Bill Crothers' arrangement had been authorised by civil service CEO John Manzoni, himself ex-private sector, on the basis that there was no conflict of interest, even though Greensill was lobbying hard for public sector contracts. Jill Rutter noted that:
- 'Bill Crothers’ bizarre acceptance of an appointment with Greensill, despite being head of government procurement, was signed off by his Cabinet Office boss, himself someone who kept his lucrative non-executive board position in the private sector when he joined government, and only relinquished it under duress. ... Both public and private sector benefit from free flowing interchange of personnel and ideas. But that only works if people who work in the public interest can be trusted not to abuse that trust for private advantage.'
- Mr Crothers did not apply for permission from ACOBA to work at Greensill after leaving the civil service. This was said to be because the Cabinet Office had already decided that there was no conflict of interest when authorising his part-time work for that company.
Writing in The Times, former First Civil Service Commissioner David Normington commented that:
'This is about much more than obeying the strict letter of the rules. It is about the standards of behaviour required of anyone in public life. That means acting with the utmost integrity and, as the civil service code says, “putting the obligations of public service above your own personal interests.” Good behaviour cannot be legislated for. It needs leaders — the prime minister, parliament and senior civil servants — to set the example. I hope that our present leaders will now rise to that challenge.'
Writing in the FT, Robert Shrimsley commented as follows
The genesis of the current scandal lies in efforts started by Cameron and continued by Johnson to change the culture in Whitehall. The moves to bring in outsiders to shake up what was seen as an inefficient and obstructionist Whitehall were led by Francis Maude, a cabinet office minister under Cameron. The background was the era of austerity and the need to find substantial savings. There is nothing to suggest any wrongdoing in this aim, but in the words of one senior civil servant from that period: “Those brought in to shake things up did not have the same values as long-term civil servants and the culture of contempt towards Whitehall generated within the civil service a defensive crouch and low self esteem which made them unwilling to challenge actions they felt were wrong.”