It’s been reported that David Cameron took scandal-hit Australian financier Lex Greensill for a “private drink” with health secretary Matt Hancock. This was to discuss a payment scheme later rolled out in the NHS.
The developments are the latest in a lobbying controversy that has dogged the Conservative former prime minister in recent weeks.
Questions were mounting over his efforts to secure access for the finance company Greensill Capital, which later collapsed.
The Sunday Times also reported that Cameron messaged a senior adviser to Boris Johnson to lobby for Greensill. Following this, the Treasury reconsidered Greensill’s application for an emergency coronavirus (Covid-19) loan.
Cameron was said to have described the decision to exclude his employer’s firm, Greensill Capital, from the multibillion-pound scheme as “nuts”. And he pressed for chancellor Rishi Sunak to reconsider. Cameron wrote last year:
What we need is for Rishi (Sunak) to have a good look at this and ask officials to find a way of making it work
This week, it emerged that Sunak responded to private texts from Cameron. The chancellor reportedly said he “pushed” officials to consider plans that could have helped Greensill in 2020.
Labour has called for Sunak to “come out of hiding” and make a statement to parliament about the “growing scandal”. And it reiterated demands for an investigation.
“The whole scandal stinks”
Shadow chief secretary to the treasury Bridget Phillipson said:
Every day brings fresh revelations about the culture of cronyism at the heart of this Conservative Government.
Through David Cameron, Greensill looks to have had the run of Government from Number 10 down, including access to millions of pounds of public money.
Labour MP Margaret Hodge, a former chair of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, said:
We need an independent inquiry immediately. The whole scandal stinks.
Greensill was understood to have written to Hancock’s office about his proposed payment scheme in August 2019. He also copied in NHS England chairman David Prior. This was before the health secretary commissioned advice from officials.
An ally of Hancock confirmed a drink took place between Cameron, Greensill and the health secretary in October 2019. At the time, Greensill’s firm wanted to introduce a scheme to pay doctors and nurses flexibly via its mobile app Earnd.
Also in October 2019, NHS SBS, a joint venture between the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and a French IT firm, announced that Earnd would be available free-of-charge to NHS employees.
Hancock’s ally, however, has said the health secretary acted appropriately. Hancock reportedly asked Greensill to work directly with the NHS rather than the DHSC.
No comment from Cameron
Cameron is yet to comment publicly about the “growing scandal”, as Labour has called it.
But a source close to the former prime minister said:
David Cameron was an enthusiastic champion of Greensill’s pay product, Earnd, and met with various people to discuss its rollout across the NHS.
A DHSC spokesperson said:
The wellbeing of NHS staff is the top priority of the department and Health Secretary.
Our approach was and is that local NHS employers are best placed to decide how different pay flexibilities fit with their overall pay and reward offer for their staff.
Separately, it was understood that Cameron’s message to the prime minister’s adviser was forwarded on to the Treasury. But it couldn’t be immediately confirmed whether the lobbying did lead to the Treasury reconsidering Greensill’s loan scheme application.
A No 10 spokesperson said:
Throughout the pandemic, an immense number of businesses contacted Downing Street with representations; these were passed on to relevant departments.
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