The two men ‘with two jobs’ at the heart of lobbying scandal: City boss and oil exec were parachuted into Whitehall to shake up civil service… and stood to make millions when they took ‘revolving door’ back to private sector
- Sir John Manzoni and Bill Crothers are latest officials facing awkward questions
- Bill Crothers was the government’s chief procurement officer between 2012-15
- In his final few months in the job he joined financial firm Greensill capital
- This was rubber-stamped by then permanent secretary Sir John Manzoni
One is the fitness-loving former oil magnate who kept his lucrative private sector job upon being parachuted into the upper echelons of government.
The other is the City boss-turned-mandarin who joined Greensill Capital while still on the civil service payroll – and stood to make millions in shares.
Sir John Manzoni and Bill Crothers were today the latest ex-officials facing awkward questions after being dragged into the lobbying row echoing through Westminster.
Both earned big bucks in the private sector, then entered the heart of government in a Whitehall drive to recruit fresh talent, before switching back to the corporate life.
Hard questions are now being asked of this ‘revolving door’ between government and business – and whether those who once walked the corridors of power always acted appropriately.
Sir John Manzoni and Bill Crothers were today the latest ex-officials facing awkward questions after being dragged into the lobbying row echoing through Whitehall
Sir John was previously the second ranking civil servant in the land and was embroiled in his own lobbying storm while in government
Until the winter of 2015, Mr Crothers was the government’s chief procurement officer, managing a £40billion budget and earning £149,000 a year.
During eight years in Whitehall he was closely involved in bringing Australian venture capitalist Lex Greensill in as a crown representative, a role that gave him access to procurement strategy.
Mr Crothers is said to have ruffled feathers with his assertive and sometimes opinionated style, as he and Minister Francis Maude set about saving billions of pounds and re-calibrating government’s relationship with its major third-party suppliers.
Yesterday it emerged that in the final few months of his post he was working two jobs after joining Greensill’s board as an adviser.
He was made a full director in August 2016 after leaving the civil service, and financial documents show that in 2019 he owned 3,653 shares worth £1,570 each.
It meant he had a stake valued at £5.7million had the lending business not cratered into administration, rendering all shares worthless.
Since the supply-chain financing firm collapsed, it has emerged that David Cameron, a adviser and shareholder, personally lobbied ministers and officials on Greensill’s behalf.
Mr Crothers insists that he ‘did not promote Greensill to any public sector business for more than two years after leaving government’.
Official records show that from April 2016 to February 2020 he held five meetings with the then Cabinet Office permanent secretary – Sir John Manzoni.
What was discussed at these meetings remains blurry, with public details restricted to abstract descriptions such as ‘commercial capability,’ ‘stakeholder relationship’ and ‘business issues’.
Sir John was then the second ranking civil servant in the land and weathered his own lobbying storm while in government.
After stints as an executive in the oil industry – including a £758,000 job at BP – Sir John was appointed chief executive of the civil service in October 2014.
As the lobbying storm raged in Westminster, Mr Crothers was today seen working from the top floor study of his £4.5million mansion in Surrey (area pictured)
Surrounded by countryside in the Surrey stockbroker belt, the house, set in sprawling acres of private land, also has a large swimming pool, several out houses and is on a private road
Sir John meets the Queen at Buckingham Palace during the annual Civil Service Awards Reception
He suffered an early onslaught when critics fumed that he was able to keep a non-executive post with drinks company SABMiller while earning his £190,000 taxpayer-funded salary.
Conflict of interest questions were raised because SABMiller were against minimum alcohol pricing, and Sir John agreed to resign from this post and waive his reported £100,000 salary.
He left the role of Cabinet Office permanent secretary in April 2020 and has since returned to the private sector on the board of British drinks giant Diageo.
But the lobbying row has thrust him back under the spotlight after he was accused of allowing his former colleague Mr Crothers to take up the role with Greensill while the government’s chief procurement officer.
Allies of Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who was then the Cabinet Office minister, say Sir John would have been responsible for rubber-stamping Mr Crothers’ job.
The pair had both had multiple meetings with Greensill prior to this being approved.
Mr Crothers has also been criticised for not seeking approval when he became a vice president at Greensill in 2016, a much bigger role in the company.
Correspondence released yesterday showed that Mr Crothers did not consult the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba) – which oversees the transition of government officials to the private sector.
Lord Pickles, who chairs Acoba, has written to him and current Cabinet Office permanent secretary Sir Alex Chisholm demanding answers.
In his response Mr Crothers explained: ‘My move to director in late 2016 was not a substantial change to my role, certainly given the scale and nature of the business, and had been anticipated when approved, and so I did not consider that a new BAR application was required. I continued to provide advice to, and attend, board meetings.’
On taking up a part-time role with the firm in 2015 while still a government official, he said: ‘At that time Greensill was a small business, 30 or 40 employees, which did not conduct any business with UK Government.
‘The approval was to be a Board Advisor, attending board meetings, with the role developing, discussed as becoming a director.’
In a terse letter to Sir Alex last night, Lord Pickles wrote: ‘The lack of transparency around this part time employment with Greensill may have left the misleading impression that Mr Crothers had wilfully ignored the obligation to seek advice.’
Sipping tea in front of an open fire, this is the first picture of David Cameron and Lex Greensill on their ‘desert camping trip’ to Saudi Arabia
As the lobbying storm raged in Westminster, Mr Crothers was today seen working from the top floor study of his £4.5million mansion in Surrey.
Surrounded by countryside in the Surrey stockbroker belt, the house, set in sprawling acres of private land, also has a large swimming pool, several out houses and is on a private road.
It has a battery of security cameras, automatic gates and video entry and is positioned on a private road.
The local postman said: ‘I have no idea who the owner is. I have never seen him.’
Mr Crothers, who spent 25 years in business before joining the civil service, paid £3million for the house in 2007, the same year he entered government.
His home has brought him a profit of £1.5million and is listed as the most expensive property in his postcode.
Few in the area surrounding his home, which in the eighties was the base for the Rolls Royce and Bentley Club, have set eyes on him.
One resident burst into a fit of laughter when he discovered who owned the house.
The man, a financial analyst, said: ‘I am a marathon runner and I pass this house while training every day. I never knew who lived there until today. I saw something about him on the news this morning. At last we’ve got someone famous living here!’
Mr Crothers, who resigned as a director of Greensill in February 2021, is currently the sole director of management consultancy firm Commercial Common Sense limited.
He founded the firm in September 2015 when he was still chief procurement officer.
The name raised eyebrows as its acronym – CCS – is the same of the Crown Commercial Service that he headed during his time in government.
The Belfast-born William Crothers – now 61 – cut his teeth at a well-paid role at outsourcing and consultancy giant Accenture after graduating from Manchester University.
He was to spend 21 years there as a senior business leader working across the world, gaining successive promotions to executive positions, sitting on the board by 1995.
He was wooed to leave that lucrative post behind to enter Whitehall in 2007 by then cabinet secretary Lord Heywood, under a drive to recruit experienced talent from the private sector to freshen up the public..
In 2007 on joining the civil service, he sold his shareholding in Accenture for an estimated £5.9million.
Bill Crothers (pictured right) spent several months as Government procurement head and a Greensill board adviser
Mr Crothers left the civil service in November 2015 and in August 2016 was appointed as a director of Greensill as Vice Chairman for the Public Sector and a member of the Group Audit Committee
Greensill – founded by Australian venture capitalist Lex Greensill – boasted about Mr Crothers’ eight years’ government experience after he joined
There was also no answer at Sir John’s home today. He owns a £4.5million home near leafy Wandsworth Common, south London, where neighbours include TV chef Ramsay.
He also has a weekend bolthole in a six-bed mansion on a country estate in the heart of Hampshire’s New Forest.
Property valuation sites estimate the estate to currently be worth £2.3 million after it was last sold in November 2014 for £1.7 million.
Sir John’s mansion is hidden behind an electronic fence and a high hedge on the secluded road near the village. A winding driveway leads up to his home.
Sir John is set to become chair of the Atomic Weapons Establishment, a body of the Ministry of Defence, in July.
Equipped with a masters in petroleum engineering, the young graduate embarked on a career in oil and gas in 1983, joining BP, where he was to stay for 24 years.
He rose through the corporate ranks to become group vice president in 2000 and finally chief executive of the company’s refining and marketing operation.
This was his role at the time of the Texas City Refinery explosion in 2005, in which 15 people died and dozens more were injured. A subsequent investigation cleared Sir John of misconduct but he didn’t escape some criticism as BP was fined £13million.
A month after the internal report came out, Sir John, who had been on a salary of over £750,000, finally left BP.
He immediately resurfaced as president and chief executive of oil and gas exploration firm Talisman Energy before starting a civil service career, as chief executive of the Major Projects Authority, at the age of 54. His former BP boss John Browne, sat on the panel that appointed him.
Through reports in the Financial Times and Sunday Times, it has emerged that Mr Greensill enjoyed privileged access to the heart of government under Mr Cameron.
Mr Cameron later became an adviser and shareholder with the company and used his influence to clinch meetings with government officials.
He even personally lobbied Rishi Sunak for it to receive coronavirus loans while it was struggling, but these were not granted.
Boris Johnson has ordered an inquiry into Greensill and lobbying to be carried out by City lawyer Nigel Boardman.
Mr Cameron has denied breaching lobbying rules but conceded he should have conducted communication through formal channels.
A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: ‘The Boardman review into Greensill Capital and supply-chain finance will be wide-ranging and will also consider the issues raised so the public can judge whether they were appropriately handled at the time.’
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